Standard Disclaimer - These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Specific Story Disclaimers:

Violence –Why does anyone ever disclaim violence in a Xena story? Of course, there's violence. Do you think we'd put out a story that consisted of pages and pages of Xena just.... fishing.. or something? She is a Warrior Princess, not a Mary Kay consultant. (no insult intended - some of my best co workers are Mary Kay consultants, and I purchase from them regularly) And Gabrielle is no slouch with that staff, either. So, yes - there is violence.

Subtext - C'mon. Even the show has subtext. Heck, sometimes, it's not subtext. Sometimes, it's maintext. But anyway, this is an alternative fan fiction story. That means, it's based on the premise that Xena and Gabrielle are more than just best friends. If that's not your cup of mint tea, there are many, many talented bards out in the Xenaverse who post general fiction, which does not follow this premise. Go find them. Enjoy them.

This is, of course, PG13 level involvement here, no more.

So - having read this lovely disclaimer, if you then read the story, and are shocked that Gabrielle and Xena are kissing each other, I can't help ya. If you're offended by it, send me your address, and I'll send you a bushel of citrus. We like to send that from here - we have to get rid of all of it somehow.

Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:


Promises Kept - Part 10

By Melissa Good

"He wants you to WHAT?"

Gabrielle had no idea how Xena managed to get so much volume into a vocal utterance that didn't carry beyond the two of them. "Marry his son." She squealed, gritting her teeth. "Xena.. I've had it about up to my TONSILS with the cluelessness of the Ares be damned people in this ridiculous little half butted peanut headed pseudo city."

Blue eyes widened, then blinked in surprise at this string of obscenity. "Um." Xena stood, and gently took her soulmate's arm, directing her to the seat she'd just vacated. "Okay.. you.. sit down here for a minute.. and I'll go talk to him, all right?" She patted the seething bard's shoulder gingerly. "Look.. I made a kitty cat for you."

Gabrielle fastened her eyes on the pattern. "A kitty cat." She started to methodically remove its whiskers.

The warrior took a breath, then headed in the direction of Edgevar. He looked up as she approached, and gave her a thin smile. "Hi." The warrior exhaled, and motioned behind her. "Gabrielle said you .. um.. made her an offer?"

His smile grew warmer. "Yes… forgive me for not speaking to you first.. but the opportunity presented itself, so.. " He rubbed his hands together. "They are of an age… she seems intelligent, if not very polished… "

"She's already married." Xena put a hand up to stop him. "So.."

He looked surprised, but not dismayed. "An arrangement can be made, I'm sure… an amount would have to be agreed on."

"Whoa.. whoa.. .no no." Xena waved her hand. "First of all, there isn't enough money in Greece for that."

"Hm." He folded his arms. "I hadn't thought that would be a problem.. since this fellow lets her go gallivanting around the countryside with you."

"Fel… aw Hades left ball." Xena cursed. "Look, just forget it."

"Ah… I see the problem.. " He relaxed, and held up a hand. "My apologies… I should have approached you first.. you are the senior member of the family… my mistake. I, of all people, being the senior in mine, should have realized that."

Xena blinked at him. "What?"

"Are you interested in the lad yourself? I hadn't thought… you are much older than he is, but still.. " The man rubbed his jaw, oblivious to the rising steam from the tall warrior. "I had thought to offer you a military position.. the highest one, of course… it seemed more your area of interest…. But I suppose we could.. "

Two big hands grabbed his shoulders and shook him, so hard his teeth rattled. "Hold it!" Xena growled, deep and low in her chest. "Now you look here… I'm not interested in your damn son. Gabrielle is not interested in your damn son. We're both married, and we like it that way. YOU GOT ME????"

He sniffed. "No need to yell." He shrugged off her hold. "I can see we need to negotiate.. perhaps I can send an envoy to your husbands?"

The absurdity of the situation got to Xena. She burst out laughing, unable to stop herself, and ended up staggering back, and leaning against the conference table. "No." She finally sighed, and straightened up. "You can't." She motioned Gabrielle to get up. "Come on." She watched the bard carefully gather her bits of parchment, and tuck them into her pocket, then grab her quill case. "Look…" She faced Edgevar. "Think about what you're doing, okay? Framna's not a bad guy."

Edgevar watched them leave, then clucked vexedly at his aides. "That was foolish of me… I should have known better than to not approach her first… she has a pride even greater than my own."

The aide sniffed. "We've got to figure out another way, then?"

"No no… give her a while to think about it.. we'll come to an arrangement. I'm not about to lose this opportunity… she'll come to her senses." He paused. "Maybe I can sweeten the offer somewhat.. you think she would like more servants?"

The aide shrugged. "Couldn’t hurt."

He nodded briskly. "Make it so."

"Y'know, Xena.. we really should have brought Salmoneus here. " Gabrielle mused, as she followed her soulmate's aggravated strides through the hall. "He'd have made a killing selling them vacation villas in Pompeii."

Xena stopped, and turned, putting her hands on her hips. "Can I take you to a vacation villa somewhere? For about a month?"

Gabrielle blinked in utter surprise. "Uh.. sure!" She grinned broadly. "How about a nice place on the beach somewhere… we can have one of those pit cookouts." She moved closer, and put a hand on the warrior's side, feeling the warm skin under her fingertips. "Just you.. me… and a handful of clams? How about it?"

"Mmmm." Xena reached up an idle hand, and ran her fingers through the bard's fair hair. "Gods… that sounds good." She murmured. "You're on.. as soon as we get outta here." She sighed. "Can you believe those people?"

The bard studied the wall for a minute. "I feel bad for Silvi…these guys are so slimy."

Xena drummed her fingers on her thigh. "Yeah… makes me wanna do something about it."

A tiny grin tugged at Gabrielle's lips. " Me too." She leaned against the warrior. "Now… sneaky, devious, clever plans to unseat nasty regents.. that's your department, partner."

Blinking pale blue eyes. "Sneaky? Me?" Xena let her mock innocent look slide into a wicked smirk. "I'll see what I can do." She kissed the bard's head. "C'mon… rain's still coming down pretty hard.. we've got some time to relax before the next round of disasters hit."

The room had been… cleaned. Xena paused reflectively by the couch, gazing at the dully shining stone floor. Experimentally, she scuffed a boot toe against it, producing a squeak.

Ares turned, startled, and yelped at her.

She squeaked again.

He yelped, and trotted over, giving her an outraged look.



"XENA!" Gabrielle threw a small, embroidered pillow at her, which she ducked. It flew out the window and landed in the rain, the pale fabric darkening quickly. "Whoops." She gave her partner a dour look , and headed for it.

"No no.. let me." Xena held up a hand, then went out onto the balcony, letting the rain drive against her body for several long moments. She grinned, and picked the pillow up, then crossed back into the room where Gabrielle was standing, hands on hips, watching her.

With a smirk, she shook her body rapidly, scattering water everywhere, then dropped the pillow onto the floor. "There." She flicked her fingers through her wet hair, and observed the now once again damp floor. "That's better." She rubbed the toe of her boot and got only a faint, scuffing sound.

Gabrielle burst into a helpless giggle. "You are such a brat." She walked over and untied Xena's tunic. "Here… I wanted to check those cuts anyway." She tugged Xena over to the fireplace, where her healer's kit was resting on a table, and got out the antiseptic, carefully recoating where she'd had to stitch the warrior's tanned skin. "You heal so fast I'm not sure there's a point to doing this, but…"

Xena watched her indulgently. "I think you enjoy it."

Gabrielle looked up, her brows creasing. "What.. seeing you get hurt?"

The warrior made a face. "No…taking care of me."

"Oh." The bard moved closer, reaching up to get a wound on the side of her neck. "Well…it's kinda… I mean, I hate having to fix stuff like this.. because I hate when you get hurt, but…I.. I guess it's… I'm glad you let me." A breath. "Because for such a long time you didn't.. I guess I always considered it a… a mark of your trust."

Xena put her arms around the bard and pulled her close. "I wish I could apologize for every time I pushed you away." She sighed. "I needed you so much, and I was so afraid to give in to that."

It was a startling admission, and Gabrielle tucked it away for later study, while she rubbed the warm back comfortingly. "It's all right… I finally figured it out once you started kinda letting me do that… you probably weren't gonna leave me someplace." She paused, reflectively. "It was a good feeling… I felt like I'd worked really hard and earned something."

Dark. Flickering firelight, and the soothing night sounds of the forest had surrounded them. She had been tugging her bedroll into place, and putting her skirt and cropped rust colored top to wash after the scuffle they'd gotten into with some thugs attacking the nearby village.

Xena was across the fire, seated on a fallen log with her long legs sprawled out haphazardly, working on a rip in her leathers. The warrior kept stopping though, and finally, she set her project down, and glanced across the flames. "Hey… Gabrielle?"

She'd looked up, curiously. "Yes?"

Blue eyes had danced uneasily across the camp, before finally fixing on her. "Could you do me a favor?"

Even now, Gabrielle remembered the startled feeling she'd gotten on hearing those words. A favor? "Sure.. sure.. what is it?" She'd gotten up, and looked around. "Do you need something.. one of your tools… "

"Um… no.. I… " Xena had taken a deep breath. "One of those guys clipped me in the back.. it's really bothering me.. can you take a look at it?"

It had felt like it had taken her forever to walk around the fire, and approach the quietly waiting warrior, but she finally got there, and had edged around in back of her, spotting the red stain on her shift and sucking in a breath. "You're bleeding."

Xena had nodded. "Thought so."

She'd knelt down, and gently pulled the fabric back, exposing the warrior's tanned shoulderblades to the flickering light. "Oh… it's a bunch of little cuts."

"Yeah.. it was a mace… " Xena had muttered. "There's some cleaner and stuff in my pack, there."

Gabrielle had nearly tripped, getting over there, and digging out the supplies, then hurrying back to her companion's side. She'd carefully cleaned the wounds, trying not to hurt Xena more than necessary. Of course, the warrior hadn't uttered a peep of complaint, but she could feel the skin tensing under her touch, and saw the flinch when she worked to get the wood particles out.

She'd never realized just how soft Xena's skin was before. It was like velvet under her fingertips.

"How's that?" Gabrielle had finally asked, uncertainly, as she finished putting a light coat of the sharp smelling antiseptic over the area.

Xena had hesitated, then turned her head, smiling at her over her shoulder. "Much better… thanks."

Gabrielle had smiled back. "Anytime."

"I know who I can come to next time, huh?" The faintest hint of gentle teasing had been in Xena's voice, strange, and warming, and new.

"Oh.. you bet." The bard had laughed, giving the broad back in front of her a hesitant, friendly pat. "But not too often, okay?"

"Okay." Came the quiet agreement. "Hey listen… my arm's a little stiff.. would you mind hanging on to the end of this while I finish up?"

Would she mind. Gabrielle almost laughed, as she seated herself on the log next to her taller companion, and steadied the leathers, holding them taut while Xena stitched. She'd felt at peace, and allowed the flames, and the steady motion of the warrior's hands to lull her.

She hadn't even remembered falling asleep there, leaning against Xena's shoulder. But she had remembered being put down on her own bedroll, and the faint pressure as the warrior brushed her lips over her forehead.

It had been such a wonderful feeling.

Xena sighed, and shook her head. "Glad you stuck it out." She ducked her head and brushed her lips against the bard's, feeling her body slide closer.

A knock at the door. Xena glanced up. "Where's my chakram?" She growled.

Gabrielle giggled against he soft skin of her neck, then reluctantly backed off, tugging the damp fabric closed and fastening her belt. "Maybe it's our boots."

Xena's eyes narrowed. "It better not be that clueless bastard."

The knock came again, a little louder. "All right.. c'mon in." The warrior snapped.

The door swung open, and Nancia drifted in, with a retinue. She stopped short when she saw the floor, and her plucked eyebrows arched. Her head swiveled, and stopped when she spotted Xena's damp hair and the warrior grinned evilly at her.

"I hate squeaky floors." Xena purred. "What do you want?" She added, lifting a brow.

Nancia wrestled the outraged look off her face, and folded her hands. "Lord Edgevar have assigned us to remain here, and provide you.. both.. with any service you find necessary."

Warrior and bard exchanged looks. "You know.. Nancia… not that we don't appreciate that.. " Gabrielle strolled over to her. "We do.. we do.. but.. see, we're not used to that kind of service… "

"Obviously." The woman sniped.

"And.. well, all these people.. in one small room.. it kinda makes us nervous." She leaned forward. "You really don’t want to make Xena nervous.. she starts playing with those sharp things.. it could get ugly."

Nancia sniffed. "We.. are trained to be inconspicuous." She waved her hands at the retinue, who took up unobtrusive positions around the outer walls. "You will never know we are here. Please… just do what you will… I will not interrupt."

Gabrielle exhaled, then sucked in a breath to argue, when warm hands fastening themselves onto her shoulders halted her. She turned to find Xena standing there, a peculiar look on her face.

"She said to do what I will." The warrior stated, gently cupping the smaller woman's neck with strong fingers. "Shall we?"

Oh boy…The bard let those blue eyes become her world and leaned towards her as Xena tilted her head and they kissed. Her hands went in pure reflex to caress the warrior's body, and she was barely aware of the strangled sound behind her as her heart started beating faster.

Gabrielle heard a squeak, and a growl from Ares. Another squeak, and a shuffle, but now the warrior was letting her hands drift slowly up Gabrielle's body, and she was losing the ability to figure out what the sounds were.

Or the inclination to care.

Except she did recognize the door closing, and she hesitated, then blinked up at her soulmate, who had the most diabolical smile on her face.

They were alone.

"Heh." Gabrielle leaned back, and regarded the taller woman with possessive pride. "You are sooo good." She sighed. "You think she'll tell anyone?"

Xena snorted softly. "What.. that backwoods country bumpkins kiss each other?"

The bard leveled a stare at her. "I am NOT a bumpkin, madam-run-around-in-mud -puddles-then-stomp-on-the-floor."

The warrior chuckled. "I don't give two centaur farts if she does…c'mere." She pulled the bard closer again, and continued her gentle exploration.

"What if they come back?" Gabrielle whispered, as her hands slipped under the linen tunic, and found warm skin. "You think they'd get a clue we're not sisters?"

A low, wicked chuckle. "Either that, or they're all gonna wanna move to Amphipolis."

The candles had guttered down, and Xena let them. She was sprawled on the low couch, watching the rain fall, with one arm draped over Gabrielle's snoozing body. The bard had her head pillowed on the warrior's lap, with one arm curled around Xena's thigh.

The taller woman let her fingers play idly in the soft red gold hair spilling over her leg, smiling a little as she felt the warmth of Gabrielle's breath against her skin. She exhaled, and returned her attention to the weather, which had worsened, and was now lashing against the window with vicious intent.

What to do? She considered the problem carefully. Silvi was too young, that was first. There was no question of that, and besides, the girl didn't have the sense the gods gave a centaur's hind hoof.

But… Edgevar wasn't much better, if a little slyer, and he left a bad taste in the warrior's mouth. Ditto his smarmy son. She withheld judgement on Elanora, because she'd only seen the girl once, but by Gabrielle's sniping report, she wasn't worth much either.

Xena sighed. What a bunch of losers.

That left Framna, who had, it was true, been duped by his own army. She had a certain sympathy for that, though… having had an army turn on her. Framna had gotten out of it easier than she had, she mused, remembering that gauntlet. Maybe he had some potential… he certainly played a nice harp.

Framna, and Silvi. Xena winced. Bennu and Gramma would be a better choice, but even she didn't think she could get away with that, short of either kidnapping or murder. She had to put something in place that wasn't going to be intrigued out of existence in a few candlemarks, which meant, it had to make a large percentage of the people involved happy.

Uck. I hate politics. She glanced down as Gabrielle stirred, and shifted a little, snuggling closer with a tiny sound. Of course, Gabrielle would be an excellent choice, but she wasn't giving her up, so forget that. Not that the bard would sit still for it, even for a few days, in fact, she'd probably pummel the warrior for even thinking about it.

And I sure don't want to be pummeled, Xena reflected, with a grin. Imagine, that jerk wanting to buy her cooperation… buddy, all the gold in.. in the world wouldn't be enough for a damn down payment. She regarded the pink ear fondly, and gently traced its edge with one finger.

"Too bad we scared away that fluffy woman before she could bring up lunch, huh Ares?" She muttered to the wolf, who was curled up against her other side, his muzzle resting on her knee. She was pretty sure the bard would wake up hungry, and there wasn't much left from their scavenged breakfast tray.

She made a mental note to remember to stock up on dried fruits and meats before they left to placate the younger woman's subtly increasing appetite while they traveled, a thought which caused a wondering smile to cross her face as she contemplated the cause.

A soft knock attracted her attention, and she raised a brow. "Too coincidental." She muttered to herself, then raised her voice slightly. "Come in."

The door opened slowly, and the dim light revealed Bennu's tall form. He edged forward hesitantly, then paused as he spotted her in the gloom. "Ah… "

"C'mon in.. just keep it quiet." Xena told him, watching as he padded around the edge of the couch, stopping in startlement when he spotted Gabrielle's slumbering form.

"Is… is she all right?" He asked softly.

The warrior nodded. "Yeah.. she's fine.. just a little tired, that's all." She leaned back. "What's up?"

"Ah.. well, t'fella's outside, wants ta speak to you." Bennu stated, scowling a little. "I'll tell em to come back later.. if the little lass is asleep, there." He started to reverse his steps, but stopped when Xena held up a hand.

"Who is it?"

"Framna." The tall soldier stated, briefly.

Xena sighed. "No.. I'd better see him…no sense in delaying it. Just give me a few minutes to wake up my partner here, and let him in."

"Aye." He grunted, reluctantly. "He's not so bad a fella, I guess." He turned, and ambled out, shutting the door softly behind him. Xena could hear his low, rumbling voice just outside, and she turned her attention to the sleeping bard.

"Hey… sleepyhead… " She traced a gentle line down the fair haired woman's face.

"Mmm." Gabrielle stirred, and snuggled closer.


Slowly, a green eye opened, and peered up at her resentfully. "My pillow's talking… this is not a good thing."

The warrior chuckled softly. "Sorry, love.. but Framna's needing to talk to me, and I thought you'd prefer to be conscious for that."

"Depends." The other eye peeked open, and the bard rolled over onto her back, resting her head on her soulmate's thigh, and stifled a lazy yawn. "Will you get rid of him like you did Nancia if he gets boring?" She crossed her ankles, and folded her hands across her stomach. "I liked that."

"Did you now?" Blue eyes gazed at her affectionately. "Me too."

They regarded each other in quiet peace for a long moment, then Gabrielle sighed, and stifled another yawn, as she rolled over and pushed herself upright, ending up against the back of the couch next to Xena, and gazing out at the nasty weather. "Uck."

The door opened a bit, and Bennu poked his tousled head in. "S'allright genr'l?"

"Yeah." The warrior stood, and stretched muscles stiffened from providing pillow service. She turned as the door opened wider, and Bennu led Framna in, and motioned him forward. "Siddown." She gave him a cool nod, watching as he nervously took a seat. "What can I do for you?" Bennu took a position near the door, his hands braced behind him.

Gabrielle pulled her feet up and sat cross legged, pulling the cloak she'd been covered with around her against the damp, cool wind coming in from the balcony. She watched Framna curiously, seeing the anxious twisting of his hands. His entire attitude had changed so radically since the previous day, it was almost like looking at a different man. She idly petted Ares, and the wolf crawled closer to her, and snuggled up, having been abandoned by his taller mistress.

"I… " The ginger haired man studied his hands and exhaled. "I hardly know what to say to you."

Xena had wandered over to the window, and now she turned, and shrugged. "There's something to say?" She folded her arms across her chest, and leaned against the balcony door, a faint mist of rain dusting her skin. "I thought I made myself clear this morning.. was there something you didn't understand about what I said?"

He paused, then looked up at her. "Only… why?" He asked, clearing his throat a little. "For all you know, that attack could have been my plan… the city would have been destroyed.. why? Why trust me?"

Xena regarded him coolly. "Does it matter?"

Framna nodded. "It does.. to me.. because I have to know the reason for things…. You were right, what I did last night in the hall.. that was to embarrass you." He hesitated. "I haven't given you any reason to do anything other than have me tossed in the dungeon on bread rations, and instead…. " His arms lifted and dropped. "I don't understand, and I want to."

The warrior turned, and regarded the weather. "Live long enough, you eventually learn that it doesn't pay to think the worst of everyone all the time." She commented softly. "You also learn to tell when people are telling you the truth." She finally turned, and faced him. "I know what a bad person is, Framna. I am one."

Gabrielle sucked in a breath, her hackles standing right on end as she formulated her indignant response to her partner's self description.

A long finger hand lifted, and blue eyes caught hers. "I've done stuff so bad you're toes would curl if I told ya about it… so believe me, there's nothing here that can match any of that."

Hazel eyes watched her, uncertainly. "I don't… "

"But see… last couple of years, what I figured out is, do good things to people, and most of the time.. they turn out better for it." The warrior continued. "And the more you do good stuff for people, the better you start to be."

The bard subsided. "Good thing you clarified that." She muttered, fiddling with Ares' tail and giving her soulmate a grumpy look.

Xena gave her a quietly affectionate grin in return. Defending her had become such a damn reflex with the bard.. briefly, her thoughts drifted to a desperately whispered exchange in Chin.

"If you think for one minute I'm going to stand by while they k…kill you.. .Xena.. don't ask that of me!" Gabrielle's tear stained face, etched with weariness, and anguish stared up at her. "Not after this.. not after.. please.."
"Listen to me!" Xena had stared right back, willing her to hear the words, and move past the emotion. "Gabrielle.. we've only got one chance, you hear me? Only one chance.. and I don’t know if I can do it.. all I can do is try.. but… I can't do it if I have to worry about you… please… just…" Her voice had broken. "Trust me."
The indecision on Gabrielle's face had been painful to behold. "What if it doesn't work?" She finally asked. "Then what? Xena.. .I can't… I can't watch you die again."
"Gabrielle… I can't get out of this stock.. we have no way of escaping… I'll try my best, I promise you that.. but if it doesn't work, you… if you don’t interfere, Ming Tien will let you go." She'd looked right into those ravaged, green eyes. "My stuff's near the pier, with a merchant named Ha Po… he knows…your name."
The bard had started to shake her head violently. "Gabrielle.. please… take it… you can sell the chakram.. it'll get you home."
"Xena…there is no home for me." The bard had whispered, and sank down, her head in her hands. "Not without you… oh gods.. what have I done?"
"Gabrielle." It had hurt, but part of her, an icy, cold aching part, had warmed. "Listen to me… listen… this is the only chance we have. " We. She'd deliberately said that. "Just… don't interfere, no matter what.. don’t' move, don't try to stop them… we don't have time to argue about it."
And finally, exhausted, Gabrielle had looked up at her, there in that stinking dungeon, and dully nodded. "But I'm not going back there if it doesn’t work." She'd rasped, her voice so strained it was almost unrecognizable. "Not and have to live the rest of my life knowing I killed you."
It really was… Xena reflected, the best and only reason the whole damned thing worked. The knowledge that she couldn't let Gabrielle feel that. And the bard had done… incredibly well. Only one twitch, one involuntary, almost animal surge, stopped almost as soon as it had started, when they'd drawn near her with the knife.
A reflex.

Framna looked carefully from one woman to the other. Then he fixed his eyes on Xena. "Um… you're not really sisters, are you?" He asked, hesitantly.

"Ooo.. " Gabrielle reached over, and patted his arm. "You get baklava points!"

The warrior chuckled. "No.. we're not." She crossed over, sat down next to the bard, and patted her leg. "Though.. if I had to have a sister, this would be the one I'd want."

The bard blushed gently, and looked down, then glanced at her partner. "No offense to Lila.. but.. I feel the same way." She tucked her hand around Xena's arm, and rested her head against the warrior's sturdy shoulder.

"Oh." He rubbed his temple. "That's what you meant… in the hall." He muttered. "About you being the only… ye gods and little fishes.. now it makes sense."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes up towards Xena's face. "Do you hear a bell ringing?"

Xena started chuckling, then she sobered, regarding Framna. "Look.. you've got a problem here." She'd made a decision, somewhere between his comments and Gabrielle's warmly comforting touch on her arm. "Edgevar doesn't want any part of you, and he's looking to replace Silvi as heir."

Framna's head shot up. "Bastard." He spat. "I thought that was in the works… damn stuck up piece of… " He stopped, giving Gabrielle an apologetic look. "Sorry."

"Poop." The bard completed his statement. "I've heard the term." She paused. "I've even fallen in it a few times." She turned her head. "Xena, why does everyone think I'm such an innocent?"

The warrior gazed at her , examining her open, youthful face with it's fringe of red gold hair and striking green eyes. "Haven't a clue. "She answered mildly. "Maybe if you wore leather more often, they wouldn't."

Gabrielle snorted. "You just like it that way."

Xena grinned, then turned her attention back to Framna.

"It's not her fault.. " Framna's voice became a good deal more animated. "I know.. she's so young.. she hasn't had practically any experience.. she'll grow into the thing, I know she will." He stood, and paced. "They don't give her a chance... I know.. how that stuck up … snootball treats her.. like she's a child." He turned. "She's not!"

Xena had braced her elbows on her knees, and she was resting her chin in her hands, watching him in silence. Her pale eyes slid to her partner's face, and saw the gentle smile there, then went back to the tall warlord. "She's pretty inexperienced, though… she's gonna need a lot of help." She warned. "And so are you… this isn't a picnic, and it’s not like running an army."

He sighed. "But her uncle… " He slumped down in to the chair again. "I'm not… damn… I'm a fighter, Xena… I don't know how to work around all this political stuff." He chewed his lip. "What's his plan? He'd have put that runt on the throne before now if he could have, the little sneak."

"Oh." Gabrielle had been quietly listening, and now she spoke up. "Easy.. he wants me to marry Vasi." She enunciated the words carefully. "Oh.. yeah.. and he wants her to run the city guards." This with a nod at her taller partner.

Framna blinked. "Ah…well… um…" He rooted around for something to say. "He's got good taste?"

One dark eyebrow edged up at that. "Oh.. you've got potential in this political thing." Xena assured him dryly. "No.. we've just got to figure out a way… " She let the thought trail off.

"Well.. you could just go kick him around a little." Gabrielle kidded, leaning against her.

Slowly, Xena smiled. "Yeah… "

"I was joking." The bard added, hastily.

"No no.. that's a great idea, Gabrielle." The warrior rubbed her hands together. "Listen.. listen.. everyone always expects… I mean, with the leather and all… yeah… that might just do it. " She nodded. "Great idea, partner."

"What???" Gabrielle turned, and grabbed her sleeve, tugging her closer. "What are you going to do?"

A slow, feral smile appeared. "Live up to my expectations."

"Are you sure you need the whip?" Gabrielle asked, peering curiously at the taller woman standing near the bed. "I mean… it looks kind of.. "

Xena finished tying the leather thong off around her waist, and let the ends dangle. "Vicious?"

"Uh.. yeah." The bard eyed the dark leathers, gleaming dully in the soft candlelight, flickers of which glanced off the hammered armor sections. Her soulmate had added some pieces of glinting chain mail, making the overall effect more… well, she hated to say dangerous, because Xena always was, but… "Intimidating, yeah."

Smirk. "Good." The warrior adjusted the long, curved dagger that was hanging at her hip, and straightened a bracer. She glanced up at her doubtful looking partner. "What?"

"Um.. nothing." Gabrielle lifted both hands, then let them drop. "Nothing… I just wish you'd tell me what you're going to do… especially since I'm going with you." She popped a remaining bit of lunch in her mouth and chewed it, licking her fingers.


One blond eyebrow rose, and the bard put her hands on her hips.

Xena sighed. "Okay.. okay… but you gotta play it right." She walked over to the bard, and tugged on her shirt. "And that's gotta go."

Green eyes opened wide. "You want me to go naked?" She spluttered, in disbelief.

"Mmm…. " The warrior thought about that. "Um.. no.. no… but… see, Gabrielle, we've gotta.. uh.. impress… on Edgevar just what dangerous… deal he's gotten himself into."

"Uh huh." Gabrielle replied slowly. "Dangerous.. well, okay, that is your specialty…but I… " She paused. "Let me guess… the Amazon outfit again, right?"

Vigorous nod of agreement. "Yeah.. only this time, all the clanking bits, okay, Specially those long, curved, tooth necklace things."

"Neck… Xena, what for?"

"You're gonna go accept his marriage proposal." Xena grinned, putting an arm around her. "And I wanna make sure he knows exactly what he's getting into."

Gabrielle turned, and put both hands flat on the warrior's chest. "I'm gonna what? Xena, have you lost your mind? " She reached up and held a palm against the taller woman's forehead. "You don't feel warm.. here.. you'd better lie down."

"No no.. listen.. " Xena resisted her tugging hands. "He doesn't know anything about the Amazons.. you can tell him some stories bout how Amazons drag their men around by the hair.. and stuff like that."

"Xena." The bard held up a hand. "Amazons don’t do that." She stared at the taller woman in puzzlement. "They don't allow men in the village at all.. which you know perfectly well."

A dark brow lifted. "They would if they could and you know it, but he doesn’t know they don't… we're trying to scare him… c'mon, if you're gonna do this with me, you gotta be a wicked, bloodthirsty Amazon warrior."

Gabrielle tilted her head and gave her partner an appealing look. "Me?"

Xena regarded her. "Well.. maybe you should stay here." She patted her shoulder. "Look.. I can handle this… you just relax… finish up lunch.. this won't take long."

Native stubbornness raised it fuzzy head. "No.. no.. I can be bloodthirsty." Gabrielle protested. "Really… " She bared her teeth and snarled, getting a weird look from Ares. "See?" She growled at the wolf, who walked over and licked her knee. "Ares, you're supposed to be scared!"

"Roo?" He sat down, and poked his tongue out happily, looking up at her.

Xena regarded the bard. "Y'know.. honey… " She began, delicately.

"Oh." Hands on hips. "Don't start with that.. I know that voice… that's the "Gee, Gabrielle.. why don’t you go and investigate this neat bed of rocks I found while I go kick some butt" voice." She straightened her shoulders. "I can be vicious.. you'll see." She paused, and glanced up. "So.. what's the plan?"

The warrior blinked. "Um… actually, I'm kinda playing it by ear." She admitted. "I was just going to go in there, and kinda shake Edgevar up.. see what happens."

Gabrielle sighed, and scratched her jaw. "Figures." She trudged over to her bags and pulled her leather outfit out. "Okay.. okay.. I'll just follow your lead." She gave her partner a look. "We keep em on a leash, huh?"

Xena grinned. "Yeah.. I'll give you one of Argo's bridle straps…you can um… " She motioned with her hands. "You know." She watched the bard slip into her Amazon gear, chuckling as the bard struggled with the catches. "Here… " She walked over and adjusted them, sliding her fingers over the bard's soft skin with a sense of pleasure. "Too bad you don't have a mask with you."

Gabrielle snorted. "Oh please… do you have any idea how hard it is to breathe in that thing?" She finished settling the belt on her skirt, and sighed. "Okay.. let's go." She fluffed out her hair, settling her bangs with impatient fingers.

Xena backed off. "Remember.. bloodthirsty. " She warned, holding back a smile at the bard's cuteness.

The bard tried to twist her face into a scowl. "Right." A sigh. "C'mon, Ares… you can be vicious looking too."

"Agrrroo?" He panted, then licked her knee again. "Roo?"

Edgevar paced up and down in front of his desk, ignoring the restless form of his son sitting on the plush settee near the window. "I'm sure there's a way."

"Father… " Vasi protested in exasperation. "She's an uncultured peasant.. I can't marry her!"

"Don’t be stupid." The older man snarled, turning on him. "You will, and that's that… she's not polished, true, but that can be changed, and you have to look at her good points. " He faced the window. "She's intelligent, she's strong.. you know she'd bear children well…what's the problem?" His brow wrinkled. "I thought she was quite fetching in that gown."

The boy slumped back in the chair. "Another commoner… are we plagued with them?"

Edgevar opened his mouth to answer, but was spared the effort when the door to his room was kicked open, and flew back against the wall with a tremendous bang. He jumped. Vasi jumped.

Xena entered, pausing in the doorway for effect, and to allow Gabrielle to step around the doorjamb where she'd been pressed for safety from flying splinters. "Hello, boys." The warrior purred, with a smile.

Father and son glanced at each other, and two sets of swallowing noises issued from them. "Well.. eh.. hello." Edgevar replied, hesitantly.

The warrior swaggered forward, twirling the end of the whip that was tied loosely around her waist. "We were just.. thinking.. about your offer." Twirl. "Right, Gabrielle?"

The bard batted her lashes. "Right." She edged around her partner, and strutted over to where Vasi was sitting, perching on the arm of the settee. "Hi there." She waved a curved tooth from her necklace at him playfully.

Vasi looked up, licking his lips nervously. Surely, she hadn't seemed so menacing before, had she? He watched as the fair-haired woman drew a wicked looking dagger out, and began running it across her skin lightly. "Um."

Xena bit the inside of her lip, and circled the two of them, advancing on Edgevar, who backed up a step nervously. "You know… your offer… we find it.. interesting." Xena untied her whip, and snapped it out expertly, circling a small statue with the end, and jerking it back towards her. She caught it and examined it idly. "Is this Plato?" She tossed the statue onto the desk.

"Eh… " The older man swallowed, watching the whip carefully. "Eh.. well.. yes… it's.. surely… eh.. "

The whip circled out and tickled his neck. "Cat got your tongue?" Xena moved closer, letting a wicked smile cross her face as she closed in, forcing him back. She reversed the whip, and touched his jaw with the end, tilting his head back. "Funny.. you sure could talk before."

Vasi yelped, as his ear was tickled with the edge of Gabrielle's dagger. He ripped his attention from his father, and focused it on the green-eyed woman almost draped over him. The smell of leather was overwhelming, mixed with the edgy tang of steel from the knife tracing his jawline, and the vague scent of herbs coming from the bard's fair skin. "Y'know… in the Amazon village… we love little boys like you." Gabrielle breathed, watching his eyes widen to an almost unbelievable extent. "We all take turns… " She traced his ear again. "Then we let our friends the centaurs join the party."

"T..t…th… ce…centa…centaurs?" He squeaked, edging away from her. "Wh… wh.. what do… they.. um… uh.. do?"

Gabrielle smiled sweetly. "What do you think?" She leaned closer. "You ever heard the term hung like a centaur? You get points for how loud you scream."

He screamed, in a very soft way.

Xena almost bit her tongue right through. She turned, and smiled at Edgevar, who was staring at Gabrielle and wincing, his legs reflexively crossing. "Oh yeah… those Amazons really know how to throw a party.. if you know what I mean." She chuckled softly. "They like beards, too." She tugged on the regent's whiskers. "I think we're gonna like it around here… whatcha think, huh Gabrielle?"

The bard playfully blew in Vasi's ear, watching him flinch. "Can I tie him up and watch him squirm?" She cast a seductive look over her mostly bare shoulder.

Xena circled her leather around Edgevar's neck, and tugged. "Oh yeah… and these rooms got those nice.. thick.. walls… right?" She pulled the regent close, until they were nose to nose, and he was forced to allow his eyes to cross as he stared at the hypnotic pale blue ones. "See.. if Gabrielle gets the puppy there… I'm gonna take you, okay?"

He squeaked.

"Tell you what…" Xena continued, in a low purr. "You boys c'mon down to our place after dinner.. we'll show you our.. toys.." Her brows waggled. "Hmm?"

"Yeah… " Gabrielle giggled. "You'd be surprised what you can do with a nice set of horse's tack." She ran a finger down Vasi's neck. "All those straps and buckles…"

His jaw went rigid, and he rolled his eyes at her. She blew him a kiss. "See you tonight?"

Xena released Edgevar, and sauntered over, looping her whip around the bard's neck. Gabrielle took a coil of it in her teeth, and chewed appreciatively. "Mmm…. love this stuff." She stood, and followed the warrior as she strolled to the door, still munching on the whip.

They both turned at the doorway, and waggled a hand in farewell, then slipped out the door, slamming it behind them.

A few lonely splinters dropped off, tinkling to the stone floor in the utter silence.

Outside the door, Xena fell against the wall, shaking with silent laughter. The bard regarded her, removing the whip from her teeth and twirling it. "Did I do ok?"

The warrior slowly slid down the rough stone, holding her stomach.

"Guess so." Gabrielle smirked, as she moved closer and started nibbling on Xena's leather armor. "Ycvzrw… vs trof argele ofnt sg db."

Xena pushed herself up, and grabbed the bard, lifting her in her arms as she started down the hall. "I will never, ever underestimate your capacity for naughtiness ever again, my bard." She promised fervently. "That was perfect."

Gabrielle slipped her arms around the warrior's neck, smiling with complacent pleasure. "Thanks.. now.. what in Hades was that supposed to accomplish? Besides being a lot of fun, and giving you a good laugh?"

The taller woman chuckled softly. "It's like fishing, Gabrielle.. ya get your bait, stick it on the end of the line, and toss it in." She trotted up a small set of stairs that led from one hallway to the hall they had their quarters in. "And ya see what you get." She paused, and regarded her fair-haired soulmate. "Centaurs?"

A soft giggle answered her.

"Argo's tack? Where do you get this stuff from?"

"Oh.. " The bard blinked innocently. "Haven't I told you those Amazon stories?" She smiled sweetly . "I got to hear lots of stuff when I was with them there that month.." Long pause, while Xena opened the door with an elbow, and slipped them both inside. "Have you ever.. um… She lifted the whip end, which was curled around the taller woman's neck.

Xena arched an eyebrow at her. "What do you think?" She asked, dropping onto the bed with the bard still in her arms. "Given my wicked, and evil reputation, and the many years I spent as a warlord, one woman among an armyful of lusty men?"

Gabrielle studied her face intently. "Nah." She finally said, brushing her nose with the whip end playfully. "Not your style." It was true, she felt it.. Xena would have no need to dominate anyone in bed.. she could just kick their butts every other way. No.. her partner was a sexy, seductive lover more interested in pleasure than pain.

The warrior kissed her gently. "So much for my reputation." She admitted, with a wry chuckle. "Drago used to have a set of shackles he used with his lovers… I would sit in his tent for HOURS trying to figure out how he managed to use them upside down."

The bard snuggled closer. "Upside down?"

"Yeah." Xena kissed her again, with gentle enjoyment.


"He could do it on a galloping horse, too."

'Xena!.. why on earth would he want to do that?"

"Think about it a minute, Gabrielle."

Long pause.

"Oh." Another pause. "Ow."  

 "Oh yeah.. he had bruises in places that would make Aphrodite blush." Xena chuckled, then sucked in a breath as Gabrielle's inquisitive fingers found their way under her armor. "Hey that…"

"Tickles?" Gabrielle inquired, exploring further.

"Nu uh." Xena returned the attention. "Bet a centaur couldn’t do that…."

A low, easy chuckle spilled from the bard's mouth. "Not unless he had a very talented tail."

"It's got to be here somewhere, Ares." Gabrielle muttered, as she peeked around yet another wooden door. "They said, down the hall, down the stairs, around the corridor, turn left, and it's somewhere in this area."

The wolf padded along agreeably in her shadow, sniffing with animal interest at the periodic hangings. They'd been looking around for about half a candlemark by now, and the bard was starting to lose her patience.

"I know they can't read much." She sniped, moving along and jerking open yet another door. "Ah." She poked her head inside and got a strong whiff of the familiar smell of parchment. "This must be it." She eased inside and blinked, looking around at a fairly small room which was lit by the reddening sunlight that had, at last, chased the clouds away. "Well.. at least it's got a window." She sighed, moving into the center of the room.

It was… dusty. She rubbed her nose in pure reflex, and padded to the center of the roughly round chamber, which was filled with shelves covered in very dusty parchment scrolls. Some, on the lower shelves, were bound into volumes, and everything had a look of neglect about it. "Figures."

"Roo… choo." Ares sneezed.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Gabrielle replied, as she spotted a small desk near the window, and walked over to it, wiping the top clear of dust with one hand. "Okay..well, it's quiet in here, there's a table, a chair, and a nice sunset. " A pause. "I'll cope." She laid down her scroll case, her diary, and a new parchment, then walked to the window, and leaned against the sill.

The library was high up in one of the side towers of the castle, and she could look across and see the balcony of the room they'd been staying in. Outside, the weather had cleared up, and the sun was painting the entire front of the castle in golden light, a wave of which was entering the window she stood at and warming her. "Mmm… that feels good, Ares." She closed her eyes and drank it in, pulling in a breath of cool, still moist air that was filled with the scent of wet stone, and pungent hickory from the castle kitchens.

Xena had changed her leathers for linen, and ambled out to start the clean up process, promising to find the bard later for dinner. Gabrielle had briefly thought about tagging along, but the need to get some details down, and finally catch up her diary urged her to let the warrior go have her fun, and to find a quiet place to sit down and work. She'd had to ask six people before someone even admitted they had a library, and another two after that until she'd found someone who knew where it was.

Sort of, anyway. It had finally been Gramma, of all people, who had scratched her head, and mumbled a few minutes, before providing the bard with her requested information.

So, here she was.. surrounded by parchment so dusty it was probably older than she was. "Oh well.. it's kinda nice in here." She scuffed a toe against the faded, but not very worn rug that graced the floor, and moved to the desk, pulling the chair out and seating herself in it.

The sun warmed her back, and lit her work, sending beams of light down that captured the disturbed dust motes, and spilled along the mahogany wood of the desktop. She opened her quill case and removed a favorite one, sharpening the point against the small whetstone, and opening her diary to her unfinished entry from the previous day.

What I realized was…
Okay, I'm back. I had to stop up there, because all Hades broke loose, and something had to be done pretty fast about it. Gramma came to warn me about something, and we realized that the city was under attack. I put Xena's plan in place…
That sounds so weird. It's true, but it does sound so weird.. like it was a planned thing or something. Of course, it wasn't, but I got lucky, and I was in the right place, at exactly the right time.
Exactly the right place, to see some guy heading towards Xena, and her too tied up with about a dozen other things to stop him, and at exactly the right time for me to get my staff up in his face, and knock him away from her.
I did that. Me, the little girl from Potadeia…I stopped some big guy on a charging horse from hurting my best friend. I used to dream about heroic stuff like that, but I never really thought I'd be the one doing it, you know?
Of course, when it comes to heroic… well, Xena managed to stop an entire army from overrunning the city, until I could get there with help. Is there anything more heroic? Not that she thinks of it that way, naturally. Everybody else does.. but not her.. no, to her it was just another instance of her dark side getting loose.
Xena, Xena, Xena.. what am I going to do with you? You just risked your life, not even thinking about it, just threw yourself in front of those soldiers to protect the citizens of this city, some of whom tried to kill us the night before. If I ever decide to write a dictionary of terms, next to the word 'hero' is going to be a sketch of you. Of course, it's gonna be a well used sketch, because it's also going to be next to beautiful, noble, brave, gorgeous… you get the picture.
I wasn't going to let anything happen to her. No way. Not now.. not when things are…wow. I thought I'd never get back to that place where I'd look at her, and get that intense feeling… but somehow I have.
Somehow… I think I owe a big offering to Aphrodite. When we go to the Amazons, to the festival. I'm gonna do that. I know Artemis is the Amazon's patron, but…Aphrodite must be up there, watching over me, there's no other way around it. Today I looked up as Xena came into our room down there, and she smiled.. I smiled.. and everything was perfectly okay.
I don’t know how we did that, and to tell the truth, I don't really care. I just know something I thought I'd lost forever has been given back to me, and nothing, not Hades, not Tartarus, not every god in Olympus.. not Dahok.. nothing, is going to take that away from me again.
Life is risky. What I was going to say up there, about what I realized.. is that there isn't anyplace safe. And that's not a bad thing for me to say, it's not like I don’t feel safe with Xena, I do.. more than ever, I think. It means that I've realized that as long as we live, we run the risk of loss. Of each other, of our family, of this child I'm going to bear… but we can't let that stop us from doing what our destinies are leading us to do.
I wouldn't have stopped Xena from trying to stop that army. I don’t think she would have tried to stop me from stopping that guy who was heading at her. We can't hide in Amphipolis, not when there are so many people out there that need help, and to be honest, I won't.. I won't have her stagnating there, and giving up her potential just for the illusion of safety. After all, a tornado could hit Amphipolis. It almost did. Or a fire, or a war… Xena would say, especially with me living there.
She's such a teaser. I love her for that. She's risking so much in opening herself again, but it's making her so happy I think she thinks it's worth it. Of course, so do I… I think she got used to feeling that joy in our relationship, and not having that… is so painful I still start crying when I think about it.
Dumb, huh? I'm just glad I got a second.. no, what is it now.. third chance? Yeah, third.
So.. enough about that.. we won the war, I guess, because the other army ran away, and they put Xena in charge of the city. She's trying to work things out for them, and we went through the silliest little scene with the regent, Edgevar, and his son. Imagine, me, a fierce, bloodthirsty Amazon warrior… in kinky leather.
Ooo.. that was fun. Xena was pretending to be on the prowl for the regent, and I got to terrorize that weenie little Vasi.. I threatened him with advances from a centaur, and I don’t think I've ever heard a man make a noise like that before. It sounded sort of like Toris when Xena grabbed him in the privates during that wrestling match they had before we left. I wonder if it's going to make a difference. I guess we'll find out. I think Xena had a good time, though.. she was laughing so hard on the way back she almost dropped me.
I guess I shouldn't have let her do that.. carry me, I mean.. but.. if I close my eyes, even now, I can feel how wonderfully warm, and secure I felt, and I can almost smell how great she smells, and how her voice just goes right through me, and wraps around me and…
Okay.. okay… so I'm nuts.
That's all right.. it's a nice kind of nuts. Honey covered walnuts, I think.

She stopped writing, and bit on the end of her quill, then removed it from between her teeth and stared at it. "What the…" Tentatively, she stuck her tongue out , and tasted the end of the quill, then sucked on it, as a pleasant, minty taste filled her mouth. "Hey!"

Ares, who had curled himself up on the rug under the table lifted his head and peered up at her exclamation. "Agrroo?"

"It tastes like mint, Ares!" Gabrielle laughed, as she examined the quill. Then she dug the rest of the assorted instruments out of her quill case, and tasted them, finding an assortment of flavors ranging from the mint of the first, to a rich, buttery cinnamon that tickled her senses. "How on earth did that happen?" As she put the quills back, she found a small curl of parchment in the very bottom of the case. "Ah hah."

Uncurled, and laid against the smooth, beautiful wood of the desk, it proved to have writing on it.

You suck on the ends of these things so much, I thought you might want to have them flavored.
Love, X.

Gabrielle laughed gently. "Mushball." She folded the strip of paper up, and tucked it back inside the case. Then she regarded her quill for a moment before she sucked cheerfully on the end of it.

Xena leaned back against the well, crossing her ankles as she watched the activity bustling around her. Men were swarming everywhere, glad to be out of their barracks and into the sunlight, splashing through puddles left on the cobblestones. A group of soldiers crowded by, carrying thick poles wrapped in canvas on their shoulders, and another group was placing Garanimus' shrouded body on top of a pyre, along with the few other victims of the raid.

"Grand to see t'sun, eh?" Bennu trotted up, a linen packet tucked under his arm. He perched next to her, gazing at the pyre. "Pity, that."

The warrior nodded. "Yeah." She sighed.

"He usta tell stories bout you, y'know." The soldier offered, hesitantly. "Long nights, round the campfire… we'd get to eggin him on, and he'd be telling things about you."

Blue eyes regarded him soberly. "I can imagine." She paused. "We didn't part on good terms."

Bennu looked down. "Nah.. t'wasn't like that." He swallowed. "He… I think he wished that hadn't a happened." A breath. "I.. remember t'night he found out y'were living down a ways… he got this.. he said he twas glad ye managed t'find a way home."

Xena turned her eyes to the pyre, her face impassive. "If this hadn't happened, I was going to invite him there." She exhaled. "It was his home, too."

"Ah." The tall man blinked awkwardly. "He was.. no the best soldier."

"No." The warrior agreed, sadly. "He just didn't know anything else." She watched the body bearers finish their work, and climb down from the pyre. "After it's done.. I'll take some of his ashes back there.. I know a place I can put them."

"I'm thinkin he'd a liked that." Bennu offered gently. "You'll no be stayin, then."

Xena turned her head, and looked at him. "No." She replied. "You knew that.. I've got things I gotta take care of."

The tall man nodded. "Aye… t'was too much to hope for, I guess.. " He gave Xena a shy smile. "D'you think they'll let us stay then? Seems a bit friendlier this morning, then do."

The warrior folded her arms. "I'm working on it, Bennu… I'm working on it… if not here, then I'll find you a place, I promise."

He fell silent, for a period for a time. "Ye dinna have to do that."

Xena returned her eyes to the pyre. "Yes I do."

"Hello?" A male voice, uncertain, called from behind them. "Hello?"

They both turned, and watched as a man in a frilly tunic hurried up, carefully dodging around the puddles in the courtyard. He came closer, peering at Xena doubtfully. "I say.. are you… are you that… Xena.. person?"

Both dark eyebrows shot up, and Xena straightened, glaring at him. "Yeah. Whadda you want?"

He stepped hurriedly back, holding out a scroll. "Here. Take that."

Bennu towered over him, snatching the item from his hand. "Gimme tha, ye… " He carefully turned, and took the three or four short steps back, handing the parchment to her. The man hurried off, disappearing into the small door that led inside the castle hall.

"What the.. " Xena watched him go, then just shook her head. She unrolled the parchment, and read it, then read it again. "Son of a bacchae." She cursed roundly. "That sneaky, mule headed piece of…. " She swallowed the rest of the oath, then read the parchment again.

"Bad news?" Bennu inquired, cautiously.

"They just named the new regent." The warrior advised him, grimly.

"Ah." He took a breath nervously. "Who're they duping into that thankless job?"

Pale, ice blue eyes raked over him. "Me."

Gabrielle nibbled on a trail bar as she rewrote a story section for the third time. "I don't know Ares.. you think I can get away with blaming our being on that ship to the Fates?"

The wolf's eyebrows twitched.

"Guess not." She chuckled, and kept writing, stopping only when she detected the sound of the door opening. "Damn." She looked up in annoyance, folding her hands over her parchment as a small, fair head edged hesitantly in. "Oh.. hi, Silvi." She paused. "You.. looking for some light reading?"

The princess pushed the door open, and glanced around with a distasteful look. "Goodness.. it's messy in here." She entered, though, and carefully shut the door behind her. "Am I disturbing you?"

Gabrielle almost said yes, then her kindlier instincts, triggered by the princesses' obvious discomfort, won out. "No.. no. I was just working on a story.. I could use a break." She made a point of leaning back, and stretching her arms out. "Something wrong?"

There was one more chair in the room, a backless stool, really, obviously used for maneuvering between the shelves. Silvi dragged it over to the table, and settled herself on it. "I have a terribly personal thing to ask you."

The bard ran through a list of possible questions, and winced internally. "Uhm…. Sure." She responded slowly. "If I can answer it, I will."

Silvi leaned on one arm. "I need your help, Gabrielle.. I know… that I was unkind.. to you last night, and I am sorry for that."

Gabrielle patted her arm. "Don't worry about it… there was so much going on, it was hard to keep track of who was a good guy, and who wasn't… don’t feel bad."

The princess sighed in relief. "You're so sensible. I'm glad… I felt awful when I thought you were working against us.. I should have known better. You're a good person, Gabrielle…and you are terribly brave… I've been hearing stories about you all day."

The bard gave her a weak smile. "I… didn't do that much… um… did you say you needed help with something?" She changed the subject hastily.

"Oh.. right… well, it's this. Are you any good at kissing?" Silvi asked, seriously.

Whatever question she expected, that wasn't it. "Uh." She felt her jaw working, and had no idea what to respond with. "W… Is there a reason you're asking?" She replied, tentatively, uncomfortably aware of the girl's hand on her arm.

"Of course." Silvi leaned even closer, glancing around as though she was afraid of being overheard. "You see.. I don't know anything about that.. and.. well… I mean, what shall I do if Framna tries to kiss me?" Her voice rose to a squeak. "I'm afraid I'll do something ridiculous… laugh, or bite him or…"

Whew. Gabrielle relaxed. "Oh.. no.. it's… you won't, Silvi… it's not like that… you just kinda… um… you just know what to do, that's all."

"Everyone says that!" The princess wailed. "And I know I won't.. Elanora said that about riding horses, and I fell right off, and I do still, every time."

The bard laced her fingers together. "Um.. well, it's not the same thing.. it took me a while to learn horseback riding, for instance.. but kissing.. well.. that kinda… " She reached up and scratched her jaw. "Kinda came naturally, I guess." I can't believe I'm having this discussion. "You'll be fine.."

"No no.. I won't." Silvi disagreed. "I shall make the worst fool of myself.. Gabrielle, you simply must help me." She stared firmly at the bard. "Show me how."

Gabrielle's throat worked a few times. "Er.. how.. what?"

Silvi gave her an exasperated little look. "To kiss, of course… come on now, Gabrielle…with your romantic nature, surely you can do that."

"Oh.. um… to be honest, I never really thought about.. um.. how.. I did that.. I just… you get close, and .. well, it's a hug thing, and then… um… your eyes kinda… and um… " She lifted her hands and let them fall. "It just happens."

The princess scowled, politely. "Does it tickle?"

"Tickle??? No." Gabrielle shook her head. "Why would it?"

"Well.. he's got those little bristly hairs.. I thought they might tickle." Silvi mused.

"Oh…um… " Forgot I don’t have to worry about that… " Well, yeah.. I guess they might.. but you probably won't notice."

"What if our teeth collide? I can't abide that.. it makes me shiver." The intent question came back. "Do you open your mouth, or not?"

Gabrielle felt a blush coming on, and she was glad of the ruddy sunset painting her skin. "Um…" Think of it as practice, Gabrielle… you might have to be doing this with a daughter someday.

"Do you keep your mouth open?" Silvi's eyes searched her face, avidly.

"Well, yes." Gabrielle felt the warm flush. "I.. I do.. actually.. and um… teeth.. never have been a problem." She cleared her throat. "You.. kind of.. I mean, with your tongue.. you… uh.. ." She stopped, almost dizzy with the amount of blood that had rushed to her head.

Silvi stared. "Your TONGUE?" She stared down at her own, puzzled, as she stuck it out. "What do you do with THAT?"

I'm gonna die of embarrassment, right here, right now. "Wh… I… when you kiss.. you kinda.. um.. touch.. or.. mm.. explore.. the other person's.. mouth.. with it."

"Oh.. my … gods… " Silvi's eyes popped. "You must be making that up."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No.. no.. it's… Silvi, you kinda have to do it to understand.. it's really hard to explain."

"But I don’t know how!!!!" She wailed, then slapped the table. "Gabrielle, please.. show me, right here."

The door opening, Gabrielle decided, was the sweetest, most welcome sound she'd ever heard. And the sight of the tall, dark haired person who opened it was even sweeter. "Xena."

The warrior strode in, giving Silvi a nod. "Gabrielle.. you won't believe what just happened."

Silvi was giving the taller woman an uneasy look.

"No no no.. " Gabrielle stood up, and held up a hand. "Hold onto that thought… I really need your help here, partner."

Xena took a breath, then glanced from the bard to the princess, and clamped her jaw shut. She raised an eyebrow at the bard in question. What the Hades is up here? Gabrielle's redder than a pomegranate.

"Silvi here is very concerned about kissing."

The warrior's eyebrow quirked. Oh. That explains it.

"Right.. yes.. and she was just asking me to demonstrate. " Gabrielle went on. "So.. she knows what to do with Framna."

"Ah." Xena walked around the other side of the table until she was standing next to her soulmate. "I see." She paused. "So.. you gonna demonstrate for her?" She watched the blush gently travel up her partner's fair skin. "I'm game." She added, helpfully.

Gabrielle turned to face her, then looked back over her shoulder at the nervously watching Silvi. "Okay.. now.. pay attention, all right?"

Silvi nodded.

"Okay.. well, first, you have to get closer to the person." She stepped closer to the warrior, letting Xena's warm scent fill her nostrils. Her body reacted to her soulmate's proximity and she had to force herself to keep her hands still. "Then.. you can usually put your arms around them. " She did so, and felt Xena's arms slip comfortably around her waist. "Like that."

"Very well.. that looks easy so far." Silvi commented. "What's next?"

Gabrielle looked up, watching the crimson light from the window paint Xena's face, sparkling off her eyelashes and bringing out the faintest of mahogany highlights in her hair.

"Gabrielle?" The princess prompted. "What's next?"

"Um." She found her eyes wandering up and connecting with the pale blue ones stained almost violet. "You.. look at them." She drank in the barest hint of a smile that was tugging Xena's lips. "And.. you let yourself feel how much you love them. " The ice blue eyes softened, and she felt herself starting to lose track of what was going on.

"And?" Silvi asked.

Gabrielle tightened her hold around Xena's neck, and the warrior obligingly ducked her head lower. "Then you… " Their lips brushed. "You just kinda.. " A longer, more intense contact, and she suddenly felt her body slip out of her control, and slide against Xena's, a warm, seductive tide crashing around her that made her forget about Silvi for a long, sweet period of time.

They broke apart very reluctantly, maintaining eye contact. "Like that." Gabrielle finally murmured.


"Silvi?" The bard turned her head, to see an empty place where the princess had been, she jerked, startled, then glanced up at her equally started partner. "Uh… "

Xena blinked, then moved a step closer to the table, and leaned over it, producing a chuckle.

Gabrielle held onto her shoulder, and peered over as well. "Oh.. centaur poop." She put a hand over her mouth. "Did we do that?"

The princess was lying on the floor, limbs askew, passed out cold.

"If anyone sees me carrying the princess through the halls unconscious, they could get the wrong idea, Gabrielle." Xena muttered, as she glanced both ways before exiting the small, winding stairway. "Considering the circumstances."

Gabrielle, juggling her parchment and scroll case, stopped and looked at her. "What circumstances?"

Xena's brow creased. "Oh..right.. you told me to shut up, so…."

"Xena." The bard clucked softly. "I did no such thing."

The warrior rolled her eyes. "You wanna hear this, or not?"

Gabrielle rubbed a hand on her upper arm. "Sorry, tiger, of course I do." She peered around a corner. "So.. what's up?"

"Edgevar's gone." Xena paused, and listened, then padded forward.

"Gone where?" Gabrielle looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean, gone?"

"Gone, as in nowhere to be found, as in goodbye, as in ran off, as in.. "

"Okay.. okay.. I get the idea." The bard waved a hand. "But he'll be back, right?"

Xena shrugged one shoulder, then motioned the bard ahead of her. "Took his silverware and frilly shirts with him.. can't think of where he'd be going with those on a temporary basis except for a bardic competition in Athens. You think??"

"Waitaminute." Gabrielle stopped, and faced her. "Are you telling me he abdicated?" Her voice rose in astonishment. "As in… "

The warrior sighed. "Look.. open the door, all right? Someone'll be by here any minute."

With an evil look, Gabrielle pushed the door to their quarters open, and held it while the warrior maneuvered her burden in, then watched as Xena crossed to the couch and laid the limp princess down on it. "She musta hit her head." The warrior muttered, checking the girl's skull. "Yeah… hit the leg of that desk, I guess… she's got a bump here."

Gabrielle ambled over, and crouched next to her, leaning on the warrior's back for balance. "So… he's gone."

"Uh huh… Gabrielle, could you get my kit? I wanna give her something to wake her up. "The warrior replied, absently, still checking the discolored lump on the princesses' head. "Oh.. and the kid, too."

Halfway to the saddlebags, the bard stopped, and goggled at her. "We scared them BOTH off?" She exclaimed, astonished. "No centaur poop.. really?"

Xena looked up. "Yeah… the kit?"

Gabrielle grabbed it, and trotted back over. "Wow… did you expect that to happen? I mean.. what a great plan, Xena…. It worked perfectly!"

The warrior mixed a few herbs together, letting a pungent whiff drift up that caused Gabrielle to jerk her head back in startlement. "Yow."

"Um… no.. I .. well, I didn't know what he'd do.. wasn't really expecting him to take off like that…. "Xena lifted Silvi's head up, and waved the mixture under her nose. It took three passes, but the girl eventually jerked, then her eyes fluttered open.

And immediately grew huge and round as she realized who was leaning over her.

"Relax." Xena sighed. "I’m not gonna hurt you." She released the girl, then sat back, feeling the sudden surge of warmth as the bard's body leaned up against her. Gabrielle's hands fell onto her shoulders, and the bard's breathing pressed gently against the back of her head. "You passed out." Fingers flexed lightly against her neck, as Gabrielle worked on loosening her tense muscles.

"M.. my head hurts." Silvi said, in a confused whisper. "I.. .you were… I was surpr… I don't understand." Her eyes went to Gabrielle's face. "It seemed so real."

Gabrielle glanced down at the dark head resting against her chest, then looked back up. "That's because it is real." She replied quietly. "I.. don't think I could fake something like that."

The princesses' expression grew even more confused. "But.."

Xena gathered up her supplies, and stood, moving away from them, towards their gear, and leaving them facing each other. She remained silent, leaving the explanations to her soulmate.

Gabrielle walked over and sat down in the chair next to the couch, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. "I guess we shouldn't have told Nancia we were sisters." She admitted wryly. "It kinda confused things."

Silvi blinked at her. "You mean… you're not???"

The bard rubbed the side of her nose. "Um.. no." A shake of her head.

"Oh." The princess murmured. "I guess I can stop having my ladies research your village customs, then." She chewed her lip. "We were quite enchanted by your family values." Then she looked up. "Is everything you told me just a tale then? All your words about love.. and about… everything…"

Gabrielle was shaking her head again. "No… everything I told you was the truth, Silvi.. I said I believed in love, and in love at first sight… for me, that happened three years ago." She shifted slightly, and interlaced her fingers. "I was getting water at the river with a group from my village, when we were caught by slavers."

"Oh my." Silvi put a hand up to her mouth.

"I… I was kind of discouraged at home… " Gabrielle looked down at her hands. "I was having a really bad day, and that just kind of made it worse, you know?"

"Of course!" The princess exclaimed. "What did you do?"

"Well, it looked kinda bad for us, until Xena showed up, that is, and just kicked everyone's butt… and when I looked at her… " She paused, trying to think of a way to phrase what she'd felt. "It was like… " Her eyes drifted to where the warrior was kneeling, as she studied the strong back, and well muscled thigh within the range of her vision. "It was like I'd known her all my life."

Blue eyes glanced briefly back at her, then went back to their task, as Xena tucked away her supplies, then stood. She turned, hesitating, then ran her fingers through her hair.

Gabrielle correctly interpreted her actions, and held out a hand. "Hey… c'mere a minute."

Xena complied, moving over to the chair and looking down at her, as the bard's outstretched hand came gently to rest against her leg. "I'm gonna… "

"Go check Argo." Gabrielle completed the sentence with little trouble, giving the warm skin under her fingers a little tweak. "Right?"

She got a quick, but dazzling grin back. "Something like that, yeah." Xena gave a nod to Silvi. "If you guys are gonna talk about all that mushy stuff, anyway." She gave a shrug. "You certainly don't need me around."

Green eyes pinned her reproachfully. "I'd rather you stay… you need to explain to Silvi what's going on."

Xena blinked. It was rare for the bard to deliberately challenge her actions. "Um… all right." She meekly replied, then went to the other chair, and dropped into it, slouching down into its softness and resting her head against the back.

The bard gave her a fond look. "Thanks… oh, and thanks for the quills." Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Nice surprise."

Xena suddenly found something desperately interesting involving the buckle of her belt.

Gabrielle bestowed an affectionate gaze on her, then turned back to Silvi. "We've been together ever since."

The girl's eyes slid to the surly warrior, then back to her. "Together as in… " She paused, delicately.

"Um.. part of the time, yes." Gabrielle replied, blushing a little. "We started off being best friends."

"But..… she… you're… " Silvi spluttered. "You're.. ugh.. how immoral!"

Bard and warrior exchanged insulted glances. "What?" Xena leaned forward a little, a menacing edge curling across the low, vibrant tones of her voice. "What do you think is immoral?"

Silvi's eyes widened. "Just.. wantonly living together… how horrid!"

Gabrielle scratched her nose. "Actually, we're married." She informed the girl mildly, then watched her start in horror. "Uh.. to each other, I mean." She hastily indicated Xena, and then herself.

Silvi chewed a finger. "Oh.. I suppose that's different…" She looked thoughtful. "My uncle says my duty is to get married, and have a baby… I think I want to do that… do you like being married?"

The bard nodded. "Very much." She paused. "And.. um.. speaking of your uncle…. " She half turned and cleared her throat. "I think Xena should tell you what she just told me."

Silvi turned wary eyes to the dark haired woman. "Yes?"

Oh, great. "Well.. it… seems he's left." Xena admitted, slowly.

The princess stared at her in puzzlement. "Left?" A worried frown shaped her pretty mouth. "What do you mean? He was just here.. I spoke with him before lunch."

Xena exhaled. "Yeah.. I know.. I.. we talked to him for a while too.. but.. um… " She leaned forward, and tugged a piece of parchment out from where it had been tucked into her belt, then scanned it. "He and Vasi decided to … leave."

Gabrielle got up, and walked over to her, perching on the arm of her chair as she read the document over her partner's shoulder. "Xena!" She gave her soulmate a sharp look. "You didn't mention that part!" She poked the document with a fingertip.

"I was getting around to it." The warrior muttered. "Silvi… I can't really say what their reasons are, but it's true.. they're gone."

The girl suddenly looked very lost. "But… what shall I do now? Who will take care of me.. of the city?" She sat up slowly on the couch and hugged herself. "Am I queen, now?"

Silence. Xena licked her lips, and felt a friendly hand slide smoothly down her back. "No.. your uncle left a regent for you." She finally said, very quietly. "Me, actually."

Startled eyes. "Y.. you?" Fear now, in Silvi's voice.

"Yeah." Xena leaned forward, and offered her the parchment. "G'wan, take it."

The princess hesitated a long time before she extended an arm and gingerly took the scroll, then read it. She let it fall into her lap with a despondent look. "It's true." She whispered, then looked up at the warrior fearfully.

Gabrielle had an arm around her partner's shoulders, her thumb gently rubbing against the skin of her upper arm. Xena was quiet, and expressionless, but the bard could feel the tension in her body, and she knew her soulmate was bothered by the girl's obvious terror of her. "Silvi… don't look so worried… you're in good hands, here."

"I'm.. not planning on sticking around." Xena stated, quietly. "Someone else can do it … you got any preferences?"

Silvi pulled herself inward, and nibbled her lip, a distraught look on her face. She didn't answer.

Gabrielle lifted her hand, and threaded her fingers into Xena's dark hair, gently massaging her neck. "Hold on…Silvi, the plan was.. when you got married, you'd take over, right?"

The girl responded to the bard's gentler voice. She looked over at her and nodded. "Yes… I'm sorry. .I suppose it's just shock.. I .. I never expected my uncle to do that." She paused. "Why did he? I told him he'd always have a place here… I don't understand."

"Maybe it wasn't enough." Xena said, bluntly. "He was planning on.. " She stopped, when she felt the pressure of Gabrielle's fingers against her neck. "Um.. I mean, I think he enjoyed being in charge.. maybe he went someplace he could do that." The pressure released, and she felt a gentle pat in its place. "Kinda.. cleared the way for you."

Silvi brightened. "Oh.. well… yes, I suppose that might be true." She regarded the warrior with a slightly calmer air. "Could you put my Framna in charge? That would be perfect…if I'm to be married to him anyway."

It went against her grain, Xena realized. That the girl would so willingly want someone else to take charge of her… but after all, she reminded herself, Silvi was young. Yeah. She's older than you were when you lead an army against Cortese, remember? The warrior sighed inwardly. But she's not me. I can't judge her by my standards. She's just a kid. "I'll think about it… lemme talk to him.. see what we're gonna do."

A slightly awkward silence fell.

Silvi eventually cleared her throat. "May I ask… why.. you are married?"

Gabrielle gave her a puzzled stare. "Huh?" Xena simply remained silent.

"Well… the whole purpose of being married is to have children and produce an heir, and… " Silvi stopped, obviously confused.

The bard shrugged. "No it's not. I know lots of people who are married and never have kids, and besides, I'm pregnant."

Silvi's face went blank. She stared at the bard, then at Xena, then back at the bard. "Well. I suppose I can now tell Elanora her little 'this is how life is' theory is wrong." She stated, smugly. "Obviously the man doesn't go to Athens and give an offering to Apollo, and that's how babies occur."

Frankly, Xena didn't know what to do. Half of her wanted to burst out laughing, the other half wanted to slide down into her chair in embarrassment. She could feel Gabrielle's fingers twitching against the back of her neck, a glance told her the bard was struggling with much the same dilemma.

Finally, Gabrielle turned, and put a fingertip on Xena's nose. "This does NOT, do you hear me, NOT come under sensitive chats."

"Sure it does." Xena replied immediately.

"No it doesn't" The bard shot back.

"Yes.. it does.. and besides, it's good practice." The warrior disagreed.

"Been there, done that already. Your turn." Gabrielle tapped her nose.

Xena sighed, and turned to the princess, who was watching them with a bewildered look. "Apollo doesn't have anything to do with it." She stated flatly.

"Well.. obviously. "Silvi replied. "Aphrodite, right?" She looked quite proud of her self for figuring it out.

"Umm…. no." Xena shook her head. "It… there really aren't any gods involved."

The girl looked astonished. "There aren't?"

"No…um…" Xena glanced around the room and started fiddling with the clasp on her belt. "You.. know you were.. um.. asking Gabrielle here about kissing?"

"Good start." The bard approved, in a very low tone.

Silvi blushed. "Well.. yes.. I mean.. all the poems talk about that…but what does that have to do with babies?"

Xena nibbled the inside of her lip. "Look.. didn't you ever have puppies.. or a kitten.. or something?"

The princess shook her head. "No.. I wasn't allowed."

"Uh huh… okay, did you ever go into the stables.. in the springtime?" The warrior tried again, aware of the giggles running through her partner's body.

"Stables!" Silvi looked shocked. "Never.. why would I?"

Xena sighed. "You never wondered where baby animals came from?"

The princess thought about that for a minute. "No, actually, I never did."

Damn it, I conquered half of Greece, I should be able to do this. "Okay." Xena's voice took on a no nonsense tone. "Listen, this is how it goes. Two people decide they want to have a kid, right?"

"Right." Silvi nodded, watching the warrior's face with interest.

"Right. So they lie down together… "

"What?" The princess giggled. "Lie down?"

Xena paused. "Well, it doesn't have to be lying down, you can… " Gabrielle snorted softly and she stopped. "Yeah, lie down, okay? They lie down together, and they have sex."

Blank look. "Have what?" Silvi glanced at Gabrielle.. "What's that?"

Bard and warrior exchanged glances. "I don’t think we'd better do a demonstration of that, tiger." The bard stated, deadpan. "After what happened the last time."

Xena could feel the giggles struggling to emerge, and she firmly clamped down her jaw, making the muscles on either side of her face stand out in the fading light clearly. "Right." She managed to reply, in a strangled voice. "Silvi… uh.. sex is the act of making love."

The princess's brow contracted. "How do you 'make' love? Is it like 'making' a cake or something?"

Gabrielle folded her arms, and stared at the ceiling. "Well.. let's see. " She murmured, more to distract Silvi from her suddenly helpless soulmate than anything else. "You get the ingredients together.. lots of soft stuff, lots of sweet stuff… you mix them all up… you bake them until it's exactly ready.. then enjoy… yeah, Silvi… I guess you could say it's kinda like making a cake."

Xena covered her face with one hand and just started laughing.

Gabrielle felt her partner lose it, and just started in herself, losing her balance and presenting Xena with a lap full of giggling bard. The warrior's arms closed around her in reflex as she tried to stifle her chuckles. "Whoa… take it easy there, Gabrielle.."

The bard wiped her eyes, and gazed up, enjoying the indulgent smile on Xena's face. "Sorry." She lied. "Didn't mean to land here." Lied again.

"Oh yeah." The warrior snorted wryly. "I'm believing that."

Gabrielle sighed contentedly, and wiggled her feet, which were hanging over the chair leg. Then she turned her head guiltily and regarded the watching Silvi. "Um… sorry about that.. it's just… I don't think either of us has had to do the birds and the bees thing before."

Silvi's eyes were fastened on Xena's face in puzzled fascination. "You look quite different when you smile." She blurted.

The bard rolled her head to the left, and regarded her partner, who had been caught with one of her sweeter, and more gentle looks on her face. "Yeah.. I always tell her she should do it more often." She teased, watching conflicting emotions flash across the warrior's expressive features. She folded her hands over her stomach, and just let herself feel the warmth and the love that was so much a part of their bond.

It felt so wonderful. She closed her eyes blissfully, and felt Xena's hold on her tighten just slightly, just enough for her to know that Xena knew exactly what she was feeling. She knew if she opened her eyes, she'd see the warrior gazing down at her with that quietly loving look that Xena reserved for her alone, and that.. that was something she wanted Silvi to see.

She opened her eyes, and met blue ones patiently watching her, framed by a tanned face whose features were just, but not quite, creasing into a grin. You wanna know what love is, little girl? She thought silently in the princesses' direction. This is love. This is what it looks like. She lifted a hand and very gently brushed the few strands of dark hair back that had fallen into Xena's eyes. "Time for a haircut."

Xena rolled her eyes and gave a mock groan. "Again?"

The bard tugged a dark lock. "Grows fast." She turned back to Silvi, who was watching them in rapt fascination. "She's really nice, once you get to know her… augh!" Gabrielle squirmed, as long fingers found their way under her tunic and began tickling. "Xena!!! Cut that out!"

"Nice, huh?" The warrior growled, finding a more sensitive spot just along the bard's ribs.

"Yahhhhh!!!!!" The bard squealed. "All right.. all right.. you're not nice, okay!!!???" The tickling stopped. "I'll get you for that later." She panted, giving her soulmate a mock glare.

"Promise?" Xena teased.

"Troublemaker." Gabrielle grumbled, then turned her head. "Like I was saying… warriors are great. Everyone should have one… they're clean, they're built pretty sturdy, they're great for reaching things on top shelves…" She felt Xena start to chuckle again. "You gotta feed them a bunch, and they do take a lot of personal care, but… not a bad deal, all in all."

Silvi giggled. "You're quite funny."

The bard's face wrinkled up into a smile. "Thanks." Her eyes warmed. "I try." She could see that the princess was more at ease now, and she was no longer giving her taller partner those wary looks. Good. She snuggled contentedly into Xena's embrace. The warrior's hand, still under her tunic, was stroking softly in idle patterns across the skin of her belly and she felt very much like a spoiled puppy curled in a favorite lap. "It's gonna be okay, Silvi… you've got a council that at least listens to advice.. and your staff here is very loyal."

The girl's brow creased as she considered that. "I often…. I wondered what it would be like, really… Father told me he'd find a good leader to marry me, so that I wouldn't have to do what he did.. but… I have wondered what it would be like to sit, and make decisions that affected everyone's lives."

Xena's brows lifted in mild surprise. Didn't think she had brains enough to even wonder. "It has its moments." She said, slowly. "Especially when you make the right decision, and everyone is better for it."

Silvi blinked at her. "Why… yes… I see what you mean." A pause. "But what if you make the wrong decision?"

The warrior shrugged. "That's how you learn to make the right ones."

"I see." The princess pressed her knees together, and nibbled a fingernail. "Can we talk more about this sex thing now?"

Gabrielle hid her face in the soft fabric of Xena's tunic, and giggled.

Xena sucked in a breath, then let it out. "All right." Her voice became brisk. "Look… let me lay it on the line for you."

"Is that part of the laying down together thing?" Silvi asked, with interest. She no longer seemed intimidated by the warrior, but then, considering that Xena was sitting there cuddling the fair-haired bard, that, perhaps, wasn't surprising.

"No." The warrior replied. "Sex is… " She sighed. "It's an act, between two people, where they fit various body parts together, and it sometimes results in a child."

Silvi stared at her. "You're joking." She covered her mouth with one hand. "Come now.. that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." She giggled. "That's as silly as making an offering to Apollo.. you might as well tell me that babies don’t grow inside heads of cabbage."

Gabrielle felt Xena sigh, and she lifted her head, to peer up at her soulmate. The warrior was peering back down at her with a desperately helpless look, and she finally relented. "Okay.. okay… " She looked at Silvi. "Silvi.. babies don’t grow in cabbages.. they grow inside people." She patted her belly. "I got one in there right now."

The princesses' jaw dropped. "You must be kidding." She stared at the bard's slim waistline. "That's impossible."

"No it isn't..they start off real, real small… and they grow. In about… "Here she glanced up at Xena, uncertainly. "How long?"

"About two months or so." The warrior quietly replied.

"Wow.. okay, in about two months or so, they get big enough to start poking out." Gabrielle continued.

Silvi rubbed her forehead. "You… you're serious about all this." She mumbled. "Has everyone been telling me lies all my life? Or is this a lie?"

"Silvi.. " Gabrielle gazed at her. "People tell other people things… that aren't true.. because sometimes the true things are either too complicated, or too painful for them to say." It was a truth she'd come to understand over the past year. "And, when people really, really love you, it's almost impossible for them to tell you things that hurt.. so they have to lie, because it comes to a point where what's going to hurt more, them lying, or you knowing the truth?"

She could feel Xena's heartbeat pounding against her cheek, and she slid a hand up, covering the warrior's and interlacing their fingers together. Are you listening? I hope so. "And when you think of it that way, Silvi.. you understand that when things are done because someone loves you, then lies can be forgiven."

The girl stared at the floor, then very slowly, looked up at her. "That is… a very beautiful thing to say, Gabrielle.. but.. my uncle never loved me." She put her hands in her lap. "I used to think I knew what love was.. but sitting here, and watching you… I've come to understand that I never really did." She stood up. "Does Elanora know of this yet?"

Xena shook her head.

"I will go inform her." The princess straightened her dress. "She will be surprised, no doubt." She turned, and glided towards the door, turning as she reached it, and looking back at them. The last glow of sunset backlit the chair, creating a crimson halo around Xena's dark head, and throwing the warrior's sharp features into shadow. "Thank you.. for all the.. information."

"Silvi." Xena's low voice shivered the air between them, and the low light in the room shot glints off her pale eyes. "He loves you."

The girl stopped dead still, and looked at her. "Did he tell you that?"

A smile, visible as a flash of white against tanned skin. "We're enough alike for me to know."

Silvi looked happier, as she let out a breath, then turned, and walked through the door.

It closed behind her, leaving two sets of eyes regarding each other soberly. "Did we do the right thing?" Gabrielle asked softly.

Xena's lips pursed, and she was silent for a few seconds, then she nodded firmly. "Yeah." She pulled the bard closer, and rested her chin on the fair head. "You were right… better he left, and left her some illusions, then stayed and had her find out what a snake he really was."

Gabrielle lifted a hand, and watched the last rays of the sun color it in gold and red, as she captured the light in a cupped palm. "I feel for her." The bard mused, quietly. "Her whole world's being turned upside down." She looked up. "I hope she's as lucky as me."

A flash of memory from the preceding year went through Xena's mind, and she wondered, briefly, whether 'lucky' was the term the bard really meant. Then she looked at the contented, peaceful look on Gabrielle's face, and accepted the fact that it really was. "Tomorrow morning, I'll call a session with all those stuffed shirts… turn over the regency, and we're outta here. How's that?"

The bard nodded. "Yeah.. I mean.. " Her eyes roamed the room. "The bed's nice.. and I like the tub.. but.. .I gotta tell you, Xena.. warthogs in the wild are smarter than most of these people."

They chuckled together. "Looking forward to going to the Amazons?" Xena inquired idly. "I promised Pony a rematch on that archery competition thing."

"Yeah.. " Gabrielle smiled. "I'm glad you're okay with that… we going to try getting out to Jessan's after the festival? I really want to see his little kids." She played with the lapel of Xena's tunic. "And…I wanted to talk to Wennid…just some questions about this stuff.. you know.. what we can expect.. that kinda thing."

Xena thought about that. "I don’t see why not… " She answered. "I don't think the weather's going to be anywhere near as bad as last year.. we should have good traveling." She shrugged. "Would have headed there first, except for this little detail.. .if we go now, we'll miss the festival, and I know we'll never live that down, so…"

"Mm." Gabrielle chuckled a little. "That's true…but you know what? I'm having a great time out here, but I'm also looking forward to getting home… I dreamed last night about our cabin."

"Huh.. so did I." Xena murmured, surprised. "I was.. um… sitting in that chair near the window.. it was raining out.. and I was repairing a trap… you were… um… "

"Sitting in front of the fire, reading a scroll." The bard whispered, her eyes widening. "I was… " her hand drop to her stomach. "It was months from now..I could feel the baby moving."

Now Xena's eyes grew round. "You called me over to feel it."

They stared at each other. "Wow." Gabrielle breathed. "Xena, that's very strange.. we dreamed the same dream."

"Yeah." Xena's voice was very soft. "Strange.. but it was nice.. I remember feeling really happy." She glanced down. "Hey.. maybe it's an omen, huh?" A hesitant smile edged her face.

Gabrielle laid her head down, remembering. There had been a peacefulness about the dream that had really appealed to her. She recalled clearly looking up from her reading, and glancing over her shoulder, and the odd, strange feeling of movement inside of her body. Was is an omen? She remembered the open, delighted look on her soulmate's face when she'd called out to her, and fervently hoped so. "Could be… it felt so real."

"They lit Gar's pyre this afternoon." Xena remarked quietly. "I took some of the ashes.. .I figure I can at least bring part of him back home."

Gabrielle patted her gently. "I'm sorry… I wish I would have been there with you." She fell silent as she realized when they'd both stood at a pyre last. Maybe it was better I wasn't. She reflected. Gods.. some things still hurt, don't they? If she closed her eyes, she could still feel the heat from that double fire against her body, and hear Ephiny's voice trembling over the crackling flames.

She could still feel the rending of her soul when Xena walked off.

Tears leaked from her, as she was unable to fend off the memories, and she felt the warrior's heartbeat suddenly double as Xena felt her distress.

"Hey… hey.. " The warrior gently cupped her jaw, and turned her face up anxiously. "Gab? What's wrong?" Panic rose in the normally steady voice. "Did.. I mean.. you wanted to be there? I know you .. I mean I know you didn't like him.. I just… I looked for you but.. I… Gabrielle?"

Calm down. The bard swallowed, and captured her soulmate's hand, hugging it to her. Calm down, and relax.. it's over. That's in the past. "Sorry." She took a shaky breath. "Just some bad memories."

Silence. Then the sensation of a hand softly stroking her hair. She sniffled, and reached around Xena's body, hugging her as hard as she could. The warrior hugged her back. "Xena?" She whispered.

"Mm?" A low, rumbling response, felt more than heard.

"Don't ever leave me."

"Gabrielle, I swore to you… "

"No.. not that.. not… that kind of leaving." Gabrielle was aware that she was shivering.

And then a solid, wonderful warmth surrounded her, cutting right to the core of ice she felt inside, and melting it as though it were never there at all. "Never." The word reassured her, and she took it, tucking it away into the dark places that still haunted her.

"Was it the pyre?" Xena's voice again, very gentle.

She nodded against her. "Yeah… it just hit me wrong… that was one of the few times in my life that I seriously considered just… just giving up."

"Yeah." Xena's voice cracked. "Me too." She exhaled. "I… found a little cave.. not far from the village.. that first night.. and …" Long pause. "And I… sat against the wall, there in the dark.. with my sword pressed against my gut.. my hands on the hilt just shaking… I wanted so bad to end it."

Gabrielle stilled even her breathing. I've never been able to ask her about that night. "But you didn't… just like I didn't."

"It hurt so much." Xena breathed, barely audible. "But I couldn't do it.. I couldn’t… I knew if I did, it would mean… I'd never… never… ever… see you again…. And.. I'd lost so much… so… much… "

The bard felt her tears soak into Xena's tunic. "I almost went after you."

"I might have killed you." The voice was faint.

Gabrielle nodded tiredly. "I know." Curiously, though, she felt a quiet peace. "But that's all in the past now… and I… that's where I want it to stay." Xena's fingers gently wiped the tears off her face. "Sorry."

"It's all right." Xena replied quietly. "It's better to get it out… we had some pretty rough stuff happen to us."

The bard nodded. "I know… besides, the good parts still outweigh the bad ones."

"Yeah?" The warrior stroked her hair.

"Mm.. for instance, listening to you try to explain sex to Silvi. That was a good part." The bard rallied, pushing the dark memories back into their holding place. She patted Xena's chest, feeling the dampness from her own tears under her fingers. "That was… very special."

Xena forced a quiet smile. "Yeah.. well…. I still think that comes under sensitive chats."

Gabrielle smiled. "All right… " She conceded. "I'll get the next one, okay?"

"Deal." The warrior replied. "You all right?"

The bard nodded. "You?"

Xena also nodded. "How about I grab us some dinner, and we spend a quiet night here."

Gabrielle perked up. "That sounds great." She reluctantly eased off the warrior's lap, and stood, stretching stiffened muscles with a wince. "Maybe I can finish the story I was working on… " She dropped onto her back on the bed, next to the snoozing Ares, who popped his head up and gave her a look. She ruffled his fur, and he crawled over, rubbing his head against her side and licking her.

"Okay.. I'll be right back." Xena promised. "Maybe I can find some cherries."

The bard smiled up at the canopy. "I'd rather have an apple."

Morning's light poured in the open front doors as Xena dodged by the council room, heading into the kitchen of the castle. She could hear voices raised inside the room, and she sighed, but the warm glow that had come from Gabrielle's very affectionate waking up shielded her from what was promising to be an unpleasant session.

The kitchen smelled of fresh bread and herbs, and the warrior spared herself a nostalgic grin, reminded of her mother's much smaller space back in Amphipolis. She spotted Gramma near the hearth wall, and changed directions. The older woman half turned to get a spice jar as she approached, and spotted her.

"Ah!" The cook dropped her spoon, and wiped her hands off on her apron. "Mornin there, sprout… I'm hearin you set the place on its ear, eh?"

Xena lifted both shoulders in a shrug. "Something like that.. yeah.. ."

Gramma sidled closer. "S'true that bistard Edgebutt hared off?"

The warrior nodded. "Uh huh."

"S'true he left ye in charge?"

"Uh huh."

"Hah… s'true ye told im ye were goin t'pull 'is parts off?"

"Uh.. no." Xena scratched the back of her neck. "Not exactly."

The old woman chuckled. "But ye're in charge.. right now?"

"Yeah.. for a little while.. until I go in there and straighten everything out." Xena explained. "Then we're leaving… I got someplace I gotta be."

Gramma nodded, her bantering air gone. "All right then… c'mere a minute." She reached out and grabbed a bit of Xena's leather armor, and tugged, drawing the warrior after her into a small storeroom. She carefully opened a small, flat box and drew out a parchment, and a quill. "Ye' can do this then… it's no much, and I don't think ye'll worry about it." She handed the scroll over.

Xena studied it, her brows creasing. "Gramma.. the staff here is indentured???" She looked up sharply. "That’s…Gods, you should have told me before now.. I would have… "

A wrinkled hand, laid on her arm. "Nah." Gramma sighed. "Most of us.. we're old.. best we stay where we are, eh? They're bound to take care of us, then, sprout.. a freeman they can boot, but not us.. and I've got noplace else t'go."

The warrior looked her right in the eye. "That's not true. You've got a place to go if you want one."

A faint smile creased the cook's face. "Still all fists and fire, ain't' ye." She chuckled softly. "Ye haven't changed a bit, Xena.. last time I saw ye was when those hooligans we're throwin rocks at t'pigs, and ye were chase'n im out the stockyard wi a stick."

Xena allowed a smile to flash, briefly. "That was a long time ago." She replied quietly. "And I went a long way away from that in between then and now."

Gramma nodded a bit. "Aye. .I've heard.. but t'important thing is, ye came back to who ye were." She sighed, and indicated the parchment. "These kids.. they're young.. still gots time to do things w'their lives.. some as may choose to stay here.. but some.. "

The warrior laid the scroll down, and held out her hand. "You got a quill?" She waited for Gramma to retrieve one from the box, and a small pot of ink. Xena dipped the end of the quill in, and paused, then signed her name neatly to the bottom of the document. "I see Mestre's name is here."

"Aye." Gramma stated, quietly.

"She's a good kid." Blue eyes flicked to the cook's face, with glinting intensity.

"Aye, she is." Came the soft reply. "She's taken quite a shine to ye."

Xena smiled. "Decided I wasn't so bad, huh?" She blew her signature dry, and handed Gramma the parchment. "There… can I trade that for some of that bread I smell baking? I promised Gabrielle I'd bring in some breakfast if we're gonna be stuck in that room for a while."

The cook carefully put the scroll away, running a finger long it's length before she closed the top of the box. "Aye.. surely." She answered finally, with a little catch in her voice. "Come along then, sprout."

Xena got her basket of warm rolls, complete with a small crock of honey butter and a few thick, still warm slices of ham that Gramma had tucked in there from a roast they were just taking off the spit. She spotted the bard standing near the far wall, speaking to a nervous looking Silvi, and she headed that way. Gabrielle was dressed in her travelling gear, and one arm was curled around her staff, but that was more for support on her still sore knee than any danger she though she might find in the council chamber.

A loud argument spilled out of the room as she ducked by, and she sighed. On second thought, maybe not. She'd spent about a candlemark speaking with Framna, who was slightly bewildered at this turn of events, and she was grudgingly satisfied with his responses, though she could have wished for a more experienced administrator for the city.

Well, that's what they have the council for, I guess. She sighed inwardly. I'm not really happy with Framna.. but then, I wasn't happy with Edgevar, either… best of all evils, huh? "Hey." She stepped up close to the bard, and held up the basket. "As promised."

"Oo." Gabrielle peeked under the linen cover and gave her an approving look. "Nice…" She glanced up. "Everything work out all right?"

The warrior waggled her free hand. "Yeah.. more or less.. I got Framna to agree to take on the rest of Gar's army… he and Bennu have thrashed out a kinda working relationship.. I think that'll be okay." She resettled her armor with a shrug of her shoulders and let out a breath. "C'mon.. let's get this over with."

The room's angry sounds quieted as they walked in, bard and warrior flanking the slight princess, who nevertheless managed to keep her head up as she was escorted to the front table, and took her seat.

Xena sat down to her right, in Edgevar's seat, and Gabrielle quietly settled next to her, the bard's mist green eyes surveying the room full of councilors and nobles with interest. The warrior found Framna's eyes in the rear of the room, and she looked right at him, then turned her head and looked at the chair on the left of Silvi, then back at him. An eyebrow quirked.

He got the message, and gently eased his way through the crowd, until he stepped uncertainly around the table, and sat down quietly at Silvi's side. Xena gave him an approving look, then she stood, and put her hands on her hips, letting her pale eyes rake the room. "All right."

They looked back at her with varying degrees of fear, interest, intrigue, and outrage.

Xena motioned to the patiently waiting bard. "Read it."

Gabrielle stood up, and unfurled the parchment, letting her eyes run over it for a minute before she took a deep breath to begin reading. Her ribs stood sharply out for a moment, and the muscles in her abdomen tensed, then her clear voice rang out over the hushed room.

Be it known to all present, that I, Edgevar, regent of Elios, have come to the end of my long, and noble service to the city. Pursuant to that, and to mark the coming of age of our royal heir, I remove myself from the city, so that affairs might be ordered without prejudice to my station.
I hereby relinquish all claims to office, and do graciously tender my resignation as regent.
Because our noble heir is not yet betrothed, I feel honor bound to provide the city with a sure, and strong hand until such arrangement can be settled upon. As such, I proclaim, as my last sigil of office, that the title of regent in my absence pass to the most gracious and honorable Xena of Amphipolis, until such time as our heir can assume her station.
May Zeus watch over you all.
Edgevar, Regent.

Gabrielle rolled the scroll up, and set it down on the table, then gave Xena a glance, as she seated herself and folded her hands on top of it. "That's it."

Xena nodded, then looked out at the room. "Any questions?" She let her voice drop into a dangerous growl.

There wasn't as much disagreement in the room as she'd expected there to be. A few faces were dark, but most of them were either thoughtful, or openly grinning. That was a surprise. A representative of the merchants managed to catch her eye, and he winked. Xena let a quirk tug her lip in response. "Hmm.. that wasn't so bad." She muttered in a low tone, which got a grin from Gabrielle, swiftly hidden behind a hand.

"Well… that was nice of him, but I think you all realize that I'm not the type to stick around very long." The warrior finally stated, surprised again at the disappointment that faced her. "Your princess has accepted an offer of betrothal from Framna here, so it's a moot point anyway."

A man stood, bracing his hands in his belt, and lifted his chin as he addressed her. He had hair as dark as her own, and pale, interesting, gray eyes. "What if that army comes back? No offense.. " He ducked a head towards Framna "But we all know who stopped them."

They all looked at Xena, nodding. A low mumble of agreement ran around the room. "Look.. " The man went on. "We know… we made mistakes, but we were desperate.. most of us… we just want a safe place to live.. and peace to go about our lives… I haven't slept so well in a year as I did last night."

Gabrielle watched her soulmate out of the corner of her eye, seeing her in the odd position of being caught entirely off balance. Xena had expected the city to be outraged at Edgevar's defection.. she certainly hadn't expected them to be glad, or that they would want her to stay on. But hey.. they weren't dummies, right? Gabrielle reflected. I'd certainly choose her over an untested girl and a guy whose army mutinied on him.

Part of her wished.. briefly, that they could stay on, just for a little while. She'd gotten to see this whole other side of her soulmate, and she kind of wanted to explore that a little. Xena had absorbed the troops reverence like a sponge, and she felt, at the root of her heart, that this was something her partner sorely missed.

It was something she was willingly, knowingly giving up as they shaped their lives in a different direction, and Gabrielle knew that she was making a conscious choice to do so, but…


Xena took a breath, and leaned forward, resting her weight against her fingertips. "I'm … glad I could help out." She started, slowly. "I know most of you didn't expect anything good to happen when Garanimus called me here…but things worked out. " She paused, and straightened, feeling their attention focus tightly on her.

Believing in her. In the back of the room, Bennu stood, a look of quiet loyalty in his warm eyes. Two of his sergeants flanked him, their armor gleaming gently in the torchlight. Proud.

For a moment, she wavered, considering a nice, secure place, full of comforts, full of company for Gabrielle, where the bard could show off her skills, and be surrounded by the kind of pampering she thought her partner deserved. She glanced to her right, and found mist green eyes gazing trustingly back at her.

Power was being held out to her on a platter, the opportunity to exercise skills she'd left to quietly rust. An army to run, councils to preside over. Respect. Honor.

No. That's how it all starts, right? You just wanted to protect Amphipolis. What happens if you decide to 'protect' this place? A few cities around here, not to well defended…easy pickings. She taunted herself darkly. Too much temptation. "I'm glad I could make things come right here, but I have things I have to do.. and a home I have to get to."

Disappointment. "Amphipolis isn't far from here." Xena reminded them. "I keep track of my friends."

More grumbling, but they looked like they felt a little better about that. "Bennu, get up here."

The tall man ambled forward, a small package tucked under his arm. "Aye?" He ended up in front of her, his head lifted high.

"Have you taken a vote?" The warrior asked, quietly.

"Aye." He answered, just as quietly. "We'd like to stay."

A murmur ran around the room again.

Xena nodded. "You gotta keep this place clean." She warned. "Or else."

He smiled at her. "Yes, Genr'l."

She smiled back, then looked up. "You need a defense force. I know this one's not what you expected, but they're good men, most of them have secondary skills you'll find useful." She informed the councilors. "They're farmers, and woodworkers, and leathercrafters.. some of them are smiths…don't waste them."

"What if.. they start acting like they did before?" The dark haired man objected. "Hassling merchants, and trashing the place.. then what?"

Bennu turned, and faced him with dignity. "Ye don't dump dung in ye're own bed." He uttered. "But ye might in someplace ye're just visitin." He glanced over his shoulder. "Besides…I'm not awanting the genr'l to come back and kick my butt."

Xena gave him a frank grin. "Smart boy."

Hesitantly, nods went around the room. "We… " A small, stocky man with the earth stained hands of a farmer stood up gingerly. "There's yardlands lying fallow a league out of town.. we've been looking for some to farm it.. most of us are afraid to go out there because it's on the fringe… there've been raiders. " He glanced at Bennu. "If any of your lot be interested.. send them to me."

The warrior crossed her arms over her chest, and gave the farmer a warm, approving smile. Most of the army was younger sons, with no chance for land at home, she knew some, at least, would leap at the chance.

Bennu nodded at him. "Aye.. that I will." Then he turned and faced Xena. "Genr'l… kin I ask ye a favor?"

Silence fell, as they all listened in interest. Xena paused, then nodded warily. "Sure."

He stepped forward, and took the folded packet from under his arm, splitting it in half and unfurling one of the pieces. Garanimus' standard, a black dagger on a red field. "I… know ye're taking a bit o'him back wi ye.. I thought… you could take this along too."

Xena stepped around the table and moved down to his level, reaching out and taking the dusty standard. "All right." She replied quietly, laying the fabric over her shoulder. "I'll do that."

Bennu nodded, and took a nervous breath. "It's not… ah.. if we're gonta stay here, it's not a good flag to be under anyway, eh? All bloody and all." He cleared his throat. "I was… tha is.. we.. " His eyes drifted back to the two sergeants, then back to her. "We were wondering… if ye'd mind… terrible.. if.. we used this one instead."

He unfolded the second packet, a dark, inky black linen bisected by a yellow hawk's head.

Xena sucked in a startled breath. Her standard. She looked at it, frozen for a long moment. "Haven't seen that in a long time." She whispered.

Bennu looked at it, draped over his large hands. "T'was Gar's….he'd take it out sometimes… tell us stories."

The warrior reached out and touched the fabric, which, by its crisp look had been well cared for. Oh Gar. Her mind remembered the tow headed boy he'd been, and her jaw clenched. "There… are a lot of folks out there that don’t look at this as an honorable standard, Bennu."

"Aye.. well.. they don’t know you, I'm guessing." The soldier answered with a smile. "Can we?"

Just like a little boy. Xena exhaled. Part of her was intensely flattered. Part of her was wary of that standard flying again. But she looked into Bennu's eyes, and realized that no matter what her answer was, she was going to leave a part of herself here. "Sure." She finally replied. "Maybe you'll give it a better reputation."

He grinned. "Thanks, Genr'l." He turned and gave the sergeants a thumbs up. Then he turned back and glanced over Xena's shoulder, as Gabrielle walked quietly up, and peered at the standard.

"Take care of that." The bard commented, with a gentle twinkle in her eyes. "She doesn't give it lightly." She raised her hand, and turned it knuckle outmost, at the level of his eyes, and watched him focus on the signet she wore.

Bennu's face creased into a broad smile. "All the more reason t', then… "He glanced up at the silent Xena. "She workin on t'reputation too?"

The warrior put an arm around her partner's shoulders. "She single-handedly rehabilitated it, as a matter of fact." She held out her free hand. "Good luck, Bennu."

He grasped her arm in a firm grip. "You too, Genr'l…ye c'n come visit sometimes, eh?"

"Sure." Xena released him, and let her eyes sweep around the room. "All right… weather's good, and it's time to get to work fixing this place up. Gabrielle and I are taking off… the rest is up to you."

And slowly, they stood, honoring her.

The courtyard bustled with activity as they stood outside, with Xena meticulously adjusting Argo's saddle. The mare was standing patiently, as the warrior tugged straps tight and adjusted buckles with practiced hands. They'd said goodbye to the palace staff, and had reluctantly accepted small parting gifts from Framna and Silvi. Now they were relatively alone, as the city tried to get back to normal.

Gabrielle had made sure everything got packed, and she was leaning on her staff, munching on one of the rolls Xena had so helpfully obtained. The courtyard was filled with sun, and she took a deep breath of the clean air, enjoying the feeling of warmth against the skin of her back, and her mostly bare shoulders. "We ready?" She asked, as the warrior finished her fiddling.

Xena grinned at her, and lifted the saddlebags up, tossing them over Argo's hindquarters and settling them in place. "Almost." She gave the bard a look. "You anxious to get going?"

The bard sauntered over, tearing off a bit of her roll and offering it to her taller partner. "Well.. I've never been to a harvest festival at the Amazons.. it sounds fun."

Xena accepted the tidbit, and chewed it. "Fun… yeah… it should be." She admitted. "Y'know, they do have some pretty interesting customers revolving around the festival and joinings during the festival." She finished her task, and vaulted aboard the mare, settling her feet in the stirrups and wrapping the reins about one hand before she extended the other down to Gabrielle. "C'mon."

To her surprise, the bard shook her head. "I'll walk.. I want to get the kinks out of this knee." She faced into the breeze, and let it blow her hair back. "Mmm… what a great day."

The warrior regarded her. "You sure?" She freed her feet from the stirrups, watching the bard's nod. "Okay." Argo snorted as she slid off the mare's back, and joined her soulmate. "I'm sure I can find a kink to get out too." She informed her, as she started walking down the wide lane that led down to the city gates.

Gabrielle gave her an affectionate look, and caught up, splitting another roll in half and handing her a portion. As they made their way down the street, they attracted attention, and Xena found herself returning a surprising amount of friendly hails.

At last, they were at the gates, and Gabrielle looked up at the fire scarred portals, which she'd last seen by torchlight. They were open now, allowing the streams of workers in and out who were rebuilding the market, and the fire damage on the guard towers was being fixed

To one side of the gates, a set of workers were clustered around a square wooden surface, which seemed to have words burned into it. They were carefully affixing it to the inner wall, and as the warrior and bard approached, the workers turned and hailed them.

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances, and changed course slightly, until they were near the small group. 'What's that?" The bard asked, ambling forward to see it. The hard working craftsmen backed off, and wiped their brows, standing proudly as she read it.

It was a plaque, of sorts, the letters burned into the hardwood, which was polished and bound in copper sheathing.

On this spot, two fortnights before the Fall Solstice, an attacking army was brought to a standstill by the skill and ferocity of a single warrior, who saved the honor of the city, and the lives of it's people without regard to her own safety.

Here, Xena of Amphipolis wrote herself into our history, and showed us all the meaning of the word courage. We honor her.

Gabrielle grinned, and gave them a thumbs up, then turned and spotted the visible blush on her soulmate's tanned face. "I like it!" She trotted back to Argo's gear, and tugged out a slip of parchment and a quill. "Wait… I wanna make sure I get it down right."

A small groan from Xena, who managed a weak grin to the craftsmen. "Um.. thanks." She rubbed her eyes, willing the flush from her skin. Great. Just great. "Gabrielle.. we gotta get going."

"Mmph?" The bard took the quill from between her teeth, as she'd been spreading the parchment flat on a stone. "I thought you said we didn't have any schedule?" She glanced up at the plaque, and started copying. "This'll make a great ending for the story."

The warrior sighed, and turned away, resting her arms over Argo's back and regarding a few birds flying overhead. A few moments later the bard patted her back.

"Got it.. okay.. lets go." She remarked cheerfully. "Perfect ending… " She waved a hand as they started out the gate. "And as they got to the gates.. a plaque was being raised… "


"Honoring the courage of the great warrior.."


"The city is forever in her debt… augh!!!" Squirm. "No fair… stop it… Xena!" Another squirm. "All right.. all right.. I'll stop!"

They ambled on. "What was that before about interesting customs of the Amazons?" Gabrielle remembered suddenly.

Xena grinned, but remained silent.

"Xena?" The bard walked backwards, peering at her. "What were they?"

A dark brow arched. "I guess I could be persuaded to remember.. for a price."

"A price!" Gabrielle's voice was indignant. "No way."

A pause. "What's the price?"

The warrior pointed at the parchment she'd been tucking away.

"Oh no." Gabrielle shook her head. "Nu uh, Xena.. I can just wait until we get to the Amazons and ask Ephiny."

A shrug. "Okay." Xena replied amiably, as the dust of the road began to kick up around her boots, and the sounds of the city faded behind them. It was a beautiful day, sunny, and with a touch of coolness in the air to remind them that summer was almost over. The fields on either side of the road gave off a heavy scent of wheat near to harvest, and the breeze that stirred their hair was thick with rich, green smells.

In the quiet, only Argo's footfalls seemed very loud. Ares was trotting off the road a little, rabbit hunting, and their soft boots made only a gentle, scuffling sound. Occasionally, the soft jingle of Argo's bit clanked, as the mare played with it, her head bobbing up and down in time with her rhythmic strides.

It was quiet, and very peaceful.

"All right." Gabrielle growled, handing the parchment over. "But these things better be good."

Xena smiled. Lasted a quarter candlemark longer than I thought she would.. she's getting better. "Which do you want to hear first… the one where the entire village gets to kiss you, or the one where you have to hang upside down by your ankles?"

Dead silence. "WHAT????"

Xena chuckled. It was going to be a great day.

The End